Lets be honest. Very few people thought the Ice Dogs would be in this predicament. Oh sure, many may have thought there would be a game 5 in this series, but most thought it would be a game for the Ice Dogs to wrap up the series, not the pivotal Game 5 with we will witness tomorrow night. (Grumpy author aside: I had the Ice Dogs in 5)
Credit goes to the Oshawa Generals who have turned a series that was threatening to be a laugher into something that is serious business if you are a fan or a player of the Ice Dogs. If I'm an Oshawa supporter I'm not sure if I'm thrilled at the very real possibility of an upset or ticked off because this is the team they should have seen all year long. Heck, even the casual Oshawa fan seemed to turn their back on the Generals as the attendance at the GM Centre has averaged less than the tight and friendly confines of the Gatorade Garden City Complex.
Even the relentless Ice Dog fans who him every time he touches the puck will admit that Lucas Lessio has been the best forward on both teams in the series in the last two games. He's been dangerous every time he's touched the puck and has shown an extra gear which was particularly in full effect in the goal which gave Oshawa a 3-2 lead in the third. Boone Jenner has scored four goals in the last two games and has been a leader on the ice. More surprising is the fact that Oshawa has climbed back into the series with modest contributions from both Christian Thomas and Nicklas Jensen, two players who combined for 60+ goals during the season, but just two so far in the playoffs. Daniel Altshuller has been spectacular at times in the Oshawa net and every bit the rookie that he is at other times. Don't be fooled by the 47 shots the Ice Dogs generated in game 3. Too many opportunities were from the perimeter and with minimal traffic impeding Altshuller. Coach Gary Agnew looked like a coach that had lost his team after Games 1 and 2. Now his decision to call a timeout in the third period of game 3 with the score 4-3 Ice Dogs made him look like a genius as the Gens have outscored Niagara 8-3 since that point. Notice that the elephant in the room "team discipline" has not even been mentioned yet, but the Generals have either been smarter or better disciplined as the Ice Dogs have had less opportunities with the man advantage in Games 3 and 4 and the Generals have been more focused on puck battles.
On the Ice Dogs end of things, everything that they are doing poorly is correctable. This is a team that was the stingiest when it came to goals against, yet they have given up 11 goals in the last two games. Allowing the Generals to freewheel in the neutral zone has been the result of forwards not getting back and defensemen backing into too much. Mark Visentin has not come up with the big save that Niagara has needed but you can hardily lay the blame at the feet of the Phoenix 1st rounder for the sudden demise of the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Simplicity should be the key for the Ice Dogs in Game 5. Stand up at the blue line and re-claim the neutral zone and the Ice Dogs are in better shape. Offensively there has been no shortage of shots, but a dearth of quality opportunities. More traffic to the net of Altshuller might test the nerves of the young goaltender. One astute e-mailer noticed that Oshawa is trying to keep the puck away from Visentin on the shoot-in. No doubt neutralizing the best puck-handling goalie in the game has played a small but significant role in the Generals fine play.
You hate to over dramatize a moment, particularly if you are the host broadcaster, but this is the game of the year for the Ice Dogs. Win, and the hammer of momentum swings back to them, but lose and all the pressure in the world falls on the shoulders of an Ice Dog team that was expected to playing deep into May.
The hottest selling T-Shirt in Niagara is emblazoned with the date of the Memorial Cup and the words "Why not us?" Now the question should be "Why us?" The Ice Dogs have to do some inner reflection in order to get back to the things that made them highly successful during the regular season.
We will have Game 5 Saturday March 31st 7pm on TV Cogeco and the OHL Action Pack. I will be joined by Ed Burkholder and Al Galloway on the call.
Ice Dogs TV Play by Play