Garrett Forrest stopped 29 of 30 shots and two of Ryerson’s four goals were fourth-line efforts as the Rams defeated the Lakehead Thunderwolves 4-1 in Game 1 of their OUA West quarterfinal on Wednesday at Fort William Gardens.
And just like that, the Thunderwolves are on the verge of elimination.
Games 2, and if necessary, Game 3, of the best-of-three set will be held Saturday and Sunday night in Toronto.
Ryerson rammed in three goals in the latter half of the first period to put Lakehead in a big hole and cool off the 1,841 fans in attendance.
“It was a tough start for us obviously. We felt the energy before the game,” said LU head coach Andrew Wilkins. “Seemed like it got the better of us. We didn’t handle it the right way. Against a good team, it’s one thing when they beat you, but it seemed like we kind of beat ourselves. They didn’t really earn their goals, they were off our mistakes. It’s a tough hole to come back from, for sure.”
Patrick Fellows opened the scoring halfway through the frame, picking up a loose puck on a blocked shot and beating Lakehead goaltender Brock Aiken with five seconds left in a Ryerson power play. Andrew Mullen’s low shot from the point was deflected past Aiken by Adam Craievich at 12:34, and four minutes later Jacob Kamps scored from in close to round out the frame.
Ryerson led 16-9 in shots through 20 minutes. Aiken would eventually make 40 total saves.
Tomas Soustal re-energized the building, tucking a shot between Forrest’s pad and blocker at 6:55 of the second period when left all alone to breathe some life into the Wolves. Kyle Auger and Josh Laframboise collected assists on the goal that turned out to be Lakehead’s lone strike.
Fellows was impeded on a partial breakaway at 13:59 on an Auger hook setting off a minor skirmish — but no penalty shot — as five of the game’s 13 infractions took place on that one play.
The rejuvenated Lakehead attack had a few chances in the second.
Soustal and Troy Williams failed to click on a 2-on-1 and Dexter Kuczek squeaked a shot through Forrest’s pads but LU couldn’t capitalize on the loose puck.
Hayden McCool rang one off the iron with a minute to go for Ryerson in an evenly played second.
Aiken made his best save early in the third thwarting Jesse Barwell from close range with a glove save that kept the Wolves relevant.
Matthew Santos stole the puck deep in the LU zone on defensive lapse, fed Matt Mistele, and Mistele buried it at 12:36 to put the game out of reach.
Scott Gall took a five-minute major and game misconduct with four minutes left in the third to put Lakehead down a man for the rest of the game.
“We came out and played well. A big two goals from our fourth line tonight which is always awesome to see,” said Ryerson head coach Johnny Duco, who saw 10 different players register a point in the contest. “We’re getting that depth scoring from different guys in our lineup. (Lakehead) came out with a real strong push in the second period as we expected. Took it to us for a time there. I thought we showed our maturity as a veteran team in the third period. Kind of clogged it up, didn’t give them a lot of time and space. We played an excellent road third period protecting the lead.”
The Rams, the fifth-ranked team in Canada, is looking to lock it down on the weekend.
“We don’t want to give them any life,” Duco continued. “We want to go out there and play our game Saturday night. We know their backs are against the wall now, and they’ll be fighting for their season. They’re going to be a desperate hockey team.”
Lakehead was 8-5-1 on the road this season and will need to draw upon that success to get past the first round.
“It’s more about mentality. I think we’ve been really good on the road this year,” said Soustal. “We’re winning way more games away than at home unfortunately. . . . We were in the same boat last week when we had to beat Waterloo to get into the playoffs. Not a new situation for us. I believe if we give them a little adversity we can definitely beat them.”