The Woodstock Navy Vets took a 2-1 series lead in their quarter-final match against the Norwich Merchants

By Greg Colgan, Sentinel-Review


Playoff series often come down to a handful of plays and pivotal moments.

A bounce here, a mistake there and one team can find themselves in a hole while the other inches towards the next round.

At a time when the stakes are the highest and the room for error the smallest, every moment can be hyper analyzed as a momentum changer.

When the Woodstock Navy Vets entered overtime in game three of their quarter-final series against the Norwich Merchants, they began by having to kill off a two minute penalty.

With Norwich outplaying them in the second and buzzing with chances in the third, momentum ultimately swung towards Woodstock after killing the penalty. Minutes later saw Dylan Wettlaufer score the winner at 8:21 when he grabbed a loose puck in front of the net to give the Vets a 4-3 overtime win and take a 2-1 series lead.

“The penalty kill was huge all game… Anytime you kill a power play, especially in overtime, it gives your guys life,” Navy Vets head coach Matt Paton said. “I thought Harry (Vets goalie Mike Harrison) played great, our PK guys got in lanes and when you kill that it gives you momentum.”

The goal was a quintessential playoff marker as Wettlaufer pounced on a loose puck alone a few feet in front of the crease. Three of Woodstock’s goals were of a similar fashion, with the Vets owning the front of the net.

“You’re going to score those goals from within 10-feet of the net in the playoffs. Rebound greasy type of goals are more likely than tic-tac-toe plays. Playoff hockey is tight checking, that’s how it is,” Paton said. “Most playoff goals are just throw it on net and two or three guys are in front to bang it home. Their goalie’s been playing well. Anything he sees, he’ll save and we needed to have net presence. We did that and paid attention to detail and we came out on top.”

The Navy Vets opened with one of their best periods of the series in the first, taking a quick 2-0 lead.

Kurtis Christo opened the scoring at 8:55 of the first when he buried the puck a few feet to the side of the net with Lucas Psenicka getting the assist. Josh Wright made it 2-0 with a power play goal at 13:00 off an assist from Austin Sine.

After getting into penalty trouble in the second, including a 5-on-3, the Merchants scored twice in a two minute span. Jeremy Bomberry put Norwich on the board with a shorthanded goal after he got behind the Vets defence. Seth Lamoure and Matt Caskanette had assists at 10:26. Riley Monture tied the game at 12:37 when he snuck behind the Vets defence and took a pass from beyond centre ice from Bomberry. The Merchants got behind the Vets defence a third time later in the period, but Harrison made the pad save.

Woodstock retook the lead at 17:20 when Justin Vandendool had the puck knocked onto his stick in front of the net and he flipped it past Norwich goalie Tyler Gubesch. Damon Lemmon and Chris Jensen had assists.

Matt Caskanette tied the game at 4:48 of the third with Blake Pow and Simon Storoschuk grabbing assists.

The Vets were 1-for-7 on the power play and the Merchants failed to score on five opportunities. Tyler Gubesch stopped 40 shots for Norwich and Mike Harrison made 23 saves for Woodstock.

Following a tumultuous second period and a third period that was close to getting away from them, Paton said the message was one of calm.

“I said to take a deep breath. There was a lot going on and it was chaos for a bit after they scored their two goals (in the second),” he said. “We got unravelled, but we kept our head. It gets intense and you want to win, but sometimes you need to get your head on straight and go to work.”

While the Vets hold a 2-1 lead, either team could be up 3-0 in the series. Woodstock took the first game 3-2 and Norwich won game two 3-1.

Merchants head coach Dave Smith said while his team showed their capabilities in a dominant second, it was mistakes that saw them unable to finish.

“It’s the same stuff we’ve been preaching all year long and it’s our inability to be consistent. When we do it, we win. When we don’t, we lose. That’s why our record was what it was all year because our inability to do what we’re taught,” he said. “Until we do that, we’re going to be in battles. There’s no excuse.

“It’s not we don’t have the talent, skill or ability, we don’t want it bad enough,” Smith added. “That’s all it is. It comes down to one or two mistakes… On the two minute power play (in overtime), we did nothing. We didn’t support the puck or move it well. When you get them down like that, you’ve got to score. We’ll be ready Friday. It’s over now, so we’ll regroup and we’ll come at them on Friday.”

The series returns to Norwich Friday, where the Merchants won game two and have consistently been a tough team to play in their home rink.

“We play well in our building, but we have to want it to even the series. It’s there for us to take, we’ve got to want to do it,” Smith said. “We’ll be ready Friday.”

The win was key as it gives Woodstock a slight advantage, but Paton said the focus is only the next game.

“For us, we need to put this one aside. We won, but it means nothing now. We still have to play. I don’t think we’ve played to the best of our ability, but we’re doing little things that are helping us… They play well there and we’ll be ready to go. There’s no such thing as a bad shot in their rink. That’s why you’ve got to have net presence. Those goals in the playoffs are huge. We won tonight and both teams will be ready to go Friday.”


Woodstock Navy Vets 4

Norwich Merchants 3

Woodstock goals: Kurtis Christo, Josh Wright, Justin Vandendool and Dylan Wettlaufer

Norwich goals: Jeremy Bomberry, Riley Monture and Matt Caskanette

Next: The Merchants will host the Navy Vets for game four Friday at 8 p.m. then Woodstock will have Norwich at Southwood arena Saturday at 7:45 p.m.