By John Langdon
The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors are showing signs that they are championship material in these playoffs.
After finishing off the Belleville Bulls in four straight games, the OHL regular season champions handed the Sudbury Wolves the same destiny on Wednesday night with a 4-3 overtime win to complete a 4-0 series sweep.
It seemed as though with their backs against the ropes, Sudbury would live to fight another day after Eric O’Dell, Marcus Foligno, and Frank Corrado built a 3-0 lead, however, all of that changed when the Majors tallied three goals in less than ten minutes to force overtime and just 2:20 into sudden-death, Derek Schoenmakers buried a loose rebound past netminder Alain Valiquette to end the Wolves playoff hopes.
It was a bitter ending for Sudbury.
“It’s upsetting,” Wolves Head coach Trent Cull said. “It’s tough to feel positive about your year when you lose like that, but that’s a pretty darn good team over there. You certainly can’t take anything away from them. They were undaunted and they kept finding a way to win.”
Despite a heartbreaking finish, the Wolves accomplishments this season surpassed many expectations.
“Like I said, it’s tough to have a real positive feel but I’m proud of the guys,” Cull added. “They did their best. They worked as hard as they could and for a team that was rated to finish nineteenth while we’re one of the final eight teams playing, they should be commended.”
Cull praised the performances of Foligno, who played perhaps his best game this post-season with 1 goal and 1 assist, and Valiquette, who was remarkable yet again with 42 saves.
“He’s a great leader to show that kind of leadership in this kind of a game,” Cull said. “Vali was fantastic for us tonight. He gave us a chance to win, but we kind of ran out of steam. They force you into making mistakes. They had the swagger this round. That was us last round against Ottawa. We knew we were going to beat Ottawa. They had that swagger and we just couldn’t get that.”
Foligno, who was selected as the game’s first star, also expressed pride in the team’s efforts.
“As a captain, obviously you [want to see your team] go as far as you can,” Foligno added. “At the same time, these kids and the way they’ve come around this year was something special to watch. I had a lot of fun these past four years. This is a great group of guys.”
After a scoreless first period which saw Sudbury get out-shot 18-6, Foligno set-up O’Dell to open the scoring at 7:38 of the middle frame.
The Wolves forwards connected again at 16:43 on a 5-on-3 powerplay when O’Dell threaded the needle with a beautiful saucer pass through the crease, which allowed Foligno to beat Mississauga netminder JP Anderson on the short side and give Sudbury a 2-0 lead.
Frank Corrado extended the lead when the Wolves defenseman made a beautiful rush down the right side and fired a shot over Anderson’s shoulder into the top right corner.
Trailing 3-0 in the third, Mississauga’s philosophy didn’t change as the Majors continued to apply pressure and eventually climbed back into the game.
“Our whole thing was just stay the course,” Mississauga Head coach Dave Cameron said. “I thought the first period was a pretty good road period. We got behind but we regrouped after the second period, and we just said don’t change anything. We’re going to get our chances and eventually we got to find a way to bury them, and we’re fortunate that we did.”
First, Rob Flick jumped on a rebound after a backhand shot by Maxim Kitsyn was stopped by Valiquette, putting St. Michaels on the board.
Less than four minutes later, Casey Cizikas jammed home a loose puck in the Wolves crease to pull the Majors within one.
“We came out good at the beginning of the game, got a jump on them early and took advantage of it,” Cizikas said. “Then we slowed down and they picked up their play because of it.”
After O’Dell was sent off for tripping at 16:09, Justin Sefton was called for slashing just over a minute later giving Mississauga a 5-on-3 man advantage.
The number one power play unit in the playoffs didn’t fail to capitalize on the opportunity as Devante Smith-Pelly found himself alone in front of the Sudbury net and received a cross-crease pass from Cizikas to set the stage for Schoenmakers’ overtime heroics.
“We battled hard,” Valiquette said. “We battled until the end and if you’re going to end a series in a loss, then you may as well do it with your head held high and that’s what we did. Give the boys in the dressing room credit because they never gave up and everybody should be extremely proud of the way they played the season and how we did in the playoffs because nobody even expected us to be here right now.”
Despite the Wolves efforts, it was evident that Mississauga was the superior team in the series as their depth and experience were simply too much for Sudbury to manage.
“It was a hard-fought series,” Cameron added. “I think both teams dominated at different times and it came down to the fact that we’re a little bit deeper, we’re a little bit older, but Sudbury gave us everything we could handle.”
The Majors now advance to the Eastern Conference Final where they will face the winner between the Niagara IceDogs and Oshawa Generals. The IceDogs currently hold a 3-1 series lead.