Lafreniere returns from injury, sends Vitos to national championship game
Photo Credit: Matthew Murnaghan / Hockey Canada Images
QUISPAMSIS, N.B. – The Saint John Vitos started off slow in their semi-final matchup against the Lac St-Louis Lions Saturday night at the qplex, but they sure finished with a bang. Anderson MacDonald scored the equalizer with six minutes to play after the Vitos had trailled most of the night, and Alex Lafreniere potted the game-winner two minutes later giving the Atlantic champions a 2-1 win and a spot in Sunday’s gold medal game.
Three minutes into the game Adam Capannelli redirected a shot from Mathias Laferriere through the five-hole of Vitos netminder Jake Stewart to open the scoring in semi-final number two. They were a dangerous duo all week and they struck again in the opening moments of this game with Sebastien Paquette picking up the secondary assist. Saint John began to pick up some momentum to end the opening period of play as they successfully killed of a penalty to Anderson MacDonald. Regardless, the Lions took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission while also leading the shots on goal 17-4.
Despite some very close calls and a late attack by the Vitos, the score remained 1-0 after 40 minutes of play in this game. At one point in the final minute of the frame Saint John had an open cage at two different moments but with the crowd getting louder each second and the Lions scrambling around trying to maintain their, a combination of some shots missing the net and key saves by Sandro Silvestre kept the host team off the scoresheet. Shots were 33-13 for the Lions at the end of the second period.
With 5:04 remaining in the third period, after several close calls for the Vitos and big amount of pressure being put on the Lions, Anderson MacDonald picked up the puck in the slot and roofed it top shelf on Sandro Silvestre. That send the roof flying off of the qplex and tied the game 1-1. Two minutes later Alex Lafreniere, who missed three games at the end of the preliminary round, banged home a shot off the rebound and once again the qplex crowd exploded. Saint John took a 2-1 lead with Liam Frigault and Ian Smallwood picked up assists.
That goal by the Sea Dogs’ property would stand as the game-winner and the Saint John Vitos were off to the gold medal game of the 2016 TELUS Cup in the home barn in Quispamsis, New Brunswick. Their opponent will be the North York Rangers who defeated the Lloydminster Bobcats in the other semi-final Saturday afternoon.
After the game Lafreniere was asked about the moments surrounding his game-winner as well as his knee injury that kept him out for the final three round-robin games, among other things. “It was incredible. I had a feeling it was coming and after I scored the fans were going crazy. Honestly it was just incredible,” said the Quebec-born forward about his third period marker.
“The crowd is going to be insane tomorrow and we’re going to be ready for that game, hopefully become the first team in New Brunswick to do this on home ice.” were his forwards when asked about tomorrow’s gold medal matchup.
The Vitos coach Ken Dobson after the game told reporters, “I can’t explain you know, people ask me what my formula is all the time, but it’s the kids writing the script; I’m the along reading the book.” Goaltender Jake Stewart needed to be very solid for the host side and he was just that stopping 42 shots in the victory. The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada property thought certain parts of his game helped him makes key saves tonight:
“My eyes were good tonight and the rebound control came with that,” said Stewart “The guys were really solid in front of me as well.” As far as tomorrow’s game and his teams goals, the young netminder said “it wasn’t always expected of us so it’s nice to prove people wrong. We just have to come here tomorrow, put in the same effort, and hopefully win gold.”
Players of the Game:
Saint John Vitos – Alex Lafreniere
Lac St-Louis Lions – Gabriel Fortier