As Peyton Hart skated and celebrated, Shane Soderwall stood in his crease and a breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The Rochester Grizzlies’ goalie earned that sigh and as many more as he wanted Friday night at the St. Peters Rec Plex in St. Peters, Mo.
Soderwall made every save expected of him and a few that weren’t, in the Grizzlies’ final pool-play game at the Fraser Cup, the championship tournament of the North American 3 Hockey League.
The top goalie in the NA3HL made two first-period goals hold up as an injury-depleted Rochester team held off a late push by Oklahoma City to earn a 3-1 victory and lock up a spot in the national semifinals.
“Tonight, I don’t want to say he stole the game but he definitely won the game and put us in a position to win it,” Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff said of Soderwall, who signed a tender this week to play for the expansion Anchorage Wolverines of the NAHL next season. Anchorage will be coached by current Grizzlies assistant coach Mike Aikens. “I think every game it just solidifies to Aikes that he made a good decision in signing Shane.
“We talked about how good Oklahoma City’s power play is and Shane came up huge against their power play a few times.”
With the victory against the Blazers, Rochester (40-6-1 overall, 6-1 postseason) won Pool B and will face the runner-up of Pool A at 3 p.m. Sunday for a spot in the national championship game. The Grizzlies’ opponent will be determined Saturday after the final Pool A game is played between the Northeast Generals (Attleboro, Mass.) and the North Iowa Bulls.
North Iowa beat the top-seeded Sheridan (Wyo.) Hawks in overtime Friday afternoon. Any of the three teams in Pool B can still end up as its No. 2 seed to the semifinals.
Soderwall is a big reason why Rochester is in the national semifinals for the first time in franchise history, but his teammates had his back, too. Cole Gibson and Collin Pederson both made big plays down the stretch, tying up Blazers players to prevent them from getting to loose pucks. Pederson, Garrett Smith and Peyton Hart had big blocked shots late in the game, too.
“Guys were selling out,” Ratzloff said. “The message we keep delivering is ‘we’re here for a reason.’ We know it’s going to come down to how much will to win do you have? Are you going to pay the price? And the guys did. We showed tonight if you knock one of us out, the next guy is right there to step in.”
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FRIDAY'S 3 STARS
3. Anton Thelander, Blazers: The Oklahoma City forward generated some of his team's best chances. He assisted on the Blazers' lone goal and blasted multiple one-times from the faceoff dot during power plays that Soderwall made big saves on.
2. Matt DeRosa, Grizzlies: The third-year Grizzly came up big when needed, scoring a goal-scorer's goal late in the first period to give Rochester the lead for good.
1. Shane Soderwall, Grizzlies: The veteran goalie played perhaps his best game of the season, stopping 29 of 30 shots and allowing only a power-play goal (just seconds after a 5-on-3 expired).
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Whether or not the Grizzlies will be at full-strength for their game Sunday is yet to be determined. They had five players leave for lengthy stretches at times in Friday’s game. Three of them — forward Dylan Schneider and defensemen Yotaro Nakadate and Tommy Gordon — did not return.
Defenseman Ethan Noonan and forward Joey Fodstad also left the game for stretches, but both returned and took shifts late in the third period when the Blazers applied some heavy pressure.
Ratzloff said the team will have a better idea on Saturday how severe the injuries to Schneider, Nakadate and Gordon are.
“That was by far the most physical game we’ve played this season,” Ratzloff said, “and that was both ways. There were times where we took it to them and times where they took it to us. It was just as fast a game as (Thursday) night. Their top line has a lot of speed, and it was very physical on top of that.”
Rochester led 2-1 after the first and second periods, and that’s how the score remained down to the final minute thanks to Soderwall’s play and his ability to track the puck through the traffic and chaos caused in front of him by Oklahoma City. Soderwall allowed only a power-play goal, that came just seconds after a 5-on-3 advantage for the Blazers expired.
The Blazers pulled goalie Olivier Charbonneau — who was also outstanding, making 35 saves on 37 shots — with 1:03 to play and held the puck in Rochester’s zone for almost all of the final 63 seconds and more. After a faceoff in the closing minute, the clock operator failed to start the clock for more than 10 seconds, giving the Blazers extra time in the attacking zone. Soderwall and the Grizzlies’ defenders held them off, though, and Peyton Hart sealed the victory by flipping a back-hand shot from center ice into the empty net to make it 3-1 with just three seconds remaining.
As they did in Rochester’s Fraser Cup-opening 4-3 win on Thursday night, the Grizzlies’ veteran forwards came up big against Oklahoma City. Rochester’s three third-year forwards accounted for all of the team’s goals Friday, as Hart scored the late insurance goal, while Fodstad and Matt DeRosa scored in the first period, sandwiching their goals around a power-play goal by the Blazers’ Petr Philippov.
Fodstad tapped in a loose puck in the crease 8:33 into the game to open the scoring.
Philippov answered with 2:46 remaining in the first, converting just seconds after a 5-on-3 power play expired, and just seconds after Rochester’s Dylan Schneider had the blade of one of his skates fall off while helping to kill the penalty.
DeRosa responded on the ensuing shift, though, with a snipe from the top of the right circle high over the glove of Blazers’ goalie Olivier Charbonneau with just 1:28 to play in the opening period. The goal held up as the game winner.
Rochester will now have a day off Saturday, which will be a welcomed rest for a team that has played back-to-back physical, hard-hitting games.
“The goal from last year was to win the Fraser Cup,” Ratzloff said. “We had a talk before the game here and said ‘we’re not satisfied with just getting here, we’re here to win.’ We need to do what it takes on and off the ice to win. That mean’s taking care of our bodies, eating right, getting rest and fluids.
“We came here to win, that’s the goal.”
GRIZZLIES 3, BLAZERS 1
Okla. City 1-0-0—1
First period — 1. ROC, Joey Fodstad 18 (Blake Arneson 11) 8:33. 2. OKC, Petr Philippov 9 (Gabe Shipper 9, Anton Thelander 11) 17:14 (pp). 3. ROC, Matt DeRosa 26 (Tyler Huffer 15) 18:32. Second period — no scoring. Third period — 4. ROC, Peyton Hart 26 (unassisted) 19:58 (en).
Shots on goal — OKC 11-10-9—30, ROC 16-12-10—38. Goalies — OKC, Olivier Charbonneau (L, 11-6-1; 35 saves-37 shots); ROC, Shane Soderwall (W, 25-3-0; 29 saves-30 shots). Power-play opportunities — OKC, 1-for-5; ROC, 0-for-2. Penalties — OKC, 2-4 minutes; ROC, 5-10 minutes.
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Grizzlies goals vs. Oklahoma City
• Grizzlies 1, Blazers 0: Blake Arneson takes a shot from the point that is stopped by Charbonneau, but he can't cover or clear the loose puck and Joey Fodstad hammers it home on the second try.
• Grizzlies 2, Blazers 1: Tyler Huffer gained control of the puck in the neutral zone and slid it to Matt DeRosa as they entered the Blazers' zone. DeRosa sniped Charbonneau high to his glove side from the top of the right circle to give Rochester the lead for good.
• Grizzlies 3, Blazers 1: (NO VIDEO AVAILABLE) At the end of an exhausting shift, Hart gains control of the puck near center ice and, with a Blazers player draped on him, sends a back-hand shot into the empty net at the far end to seal the victory with 3 seconds to play.