By David Dell
PORT HURON- Typically the third game, against the same opponent, in three days. Is a lackluster affair. The teams are tired of playing and tired of playing against each other. Again. Not so between the first place Watertown Wolves and the Port Huron Prowlers. The two teams split Friday and Saturday nights games with a 2 goal difference both times. Today’s matinee was no different.
The teams appeared to have learned each other’s weaknesses but still had some fire in their steps. It wouldn’t be until 19:03 of the 1st period before Alex Jmaeff would lift one into the upper corner of the net over starter Joe Noonan. Justin MacDonald and Ahmed Mafouz would help. The period was played close with Jay Dalton taking only his fourth penalty of the season for Holding at 7:59 when a pair of Wolves were making a break up the slot on Noonan. There were only five shots on goal at this point. The Prowlers, who previously had only a 79% penalty kill allowed only three shots while short-handed before controlling the puck in the Watertown zone with 5 good scoring chances in two minutes. The game would consist of back and forth passing and intercepting from 15:35 until the goal. Watertown lead 1-0 but trailed 8-9 in shots on goal.
Round 2 of the match started with Watertown ready to capitalize on the momentum of the 1st-period goal. Three quick shots with a goal on the third at 1:33 by Cole McKechney from Ahmed Mafouz doubled up the score in favor of the Wolves. Mafouz was coming in on the right-wing, passed to McKechney, and then took out Alex Johnson and as they were sliding through the crease, took out Noonan, giving McKechney a wide open net to shoot into. Over the next six minutes, the teams would split a couple of shots on goal before Ahmed Mafouz was able to tip a Nolan Slachetka shot passed a screen Prowler’s Noonan. A Ryan Devine Cross Checking minor penalty at 9:41 would not result in a power-play goal for the Prowlers. They would allow Watertown to break out of their defensive zone and attempt a couple of shots to no avail keeping it 3-0 in favor of the Wolves. Matt Graham breathed some life into a rapidly deflating crowd with a lamplighter at 17:05. Late period pressure from Evan Foley, Brad Denney, Dalton Jay, and Graham had Watertown’s Adam Beukeboom flipping and flopping in the crease while half a dozen players scrambled to get a hold of the puck before Graham was able to squeeze it across the goal line. The period came to an end with a couple of Watertown minor penalties. Cole McKechney was tagged for Cross Checking at 19:34 and Ahmed Mafouz’s Roughing call for a beer league hit on Alex Johnson well after the horn had sounded. Mafouz would spend over a minute leaving the ice arguing against the call that was blatant and seen clearly by all involved. Shots again were even up at 11-10 in favor of the visitors but they had a pair more goals to show for it.
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With tensions running high, Port Huron was on a 5-3 to begin the final frame, Larry Vartianen (10th of the season) lit the red light on the power play. Austin Fetterly fed a cross-ice pass to Evan Foley on the right-wing face-off dot who executed a beautiful feed to Vartianen. Vartianen’s one-timer beat the netminder high on the glove side at 00:21. During the ensuing 5-4 powerplay Alex Johnson took a shot that went wide, deflected off a Watertown defender, and nearly surprised Beukeboom. Port Huron’s Matt Graham, Sam Marit, and Dalton Jay were involved in the play that deflected off the back of the Wolves’ Beukeboom from an attempted clearing pass by Ryan Devine. Graham had lost the handle on a pass from Marit, low in the zone and the puck was behind the Watertown goal. Marit (6th of the season) was credited with the tally. With the game now tied at 3 apiece, all 869 in attendance breathed a sigh of relief. The Prowlers were still in it at 1:26 of the period. The joy would be short-lived as Watertown came roaring back down the ice at 3:03. Ryan Devine would get help from Cole McKechney and Michael Mann. After a scramble for the puck, Ryan Devine would clean up his own huge rebound to fire it past Joe Noonan who was recovering his position. Port Huron would control the puck for most of the next four minutes getting off four shots until Watertown picked up the puck and went end for end. Andrew Harrison would regain the 2-goal lead at 7:58 after a scrum in the right corner. He dragged the puck up and Noonan gave up a five-hole, he’d surely like back. Prowler Dalton Jay was nonplussed about the events and got that goal back at 9:02 from Matt Graham and Evan Foley. Graham won a defensive zone face-off back to Foley who made a perfect feed to Jay (34th of the season) splitting a pair of defenders in the near slot and stuffed it home, five-hole. Port Huron was clawing its way back out of a hole and the next nine minutes was filled with intense, focused play by both teams, each getting 5 good scoring chances but not hitting twine. Port Huron pulled goalie Noonan at 18:02 for the extra attacker but was unable to capitalize on the man advantage. 00:20 later Lane King would feed Justin MacDonald who got an easy empty-net goal to seal the deal.
These two teams had a lot of fire for each other with Watertown wanting to continue the festivities after the horn. Ryan Devine gave Prowler’s Justin Brausen a Cross-Check across the chest after the horn and drew an Unsportsmanlike minor and a Game Misconduct. Prowler backup goalie Rich Shipman looked for a dance partner and it looked like Luke Cohen backup goalie for Watertown was willing to go as he dropped the gloves. He backed down and as he was leaving the ice not engaging Shipman he tripped and fell. He really wasn’t interested because he never went all in. Matt Graham took exception to Devine’s actions and as Devine was being escorted off the ice, Graham and Justin McDonald decided to dance. They both collected Five for Fighting and Game Misconduct penalties. As the officials finally cleared the ice. The Wolves win the series 2-1 with another 2-goal game 6-4. Shots on goal for the teams were 33-32 in favor of Watertown.
The Prowlers play on the road 8-9 April before closing out the regular season 15-16 April at home. The Prowlers playoff run starts on 18 April at McMorran Arena.