By Jesse Ferguson
The Brantford Blast were back at it Friday, December 20th at the Civic Centre facing off against the Whitby Dunlops.
Brantford sits in third place in Allan Cup Hockey standings, despite playing three fewer games than the third place team (Dundas) and four fewer contests than the first place squad (Hamilton). Whitby sits behind these teams in the standings.
The teams squaring off Friday opened the contest skating well, with rushes on both sides. It was Brantford first to make a mark off a rush. Igor Gongalsky made an impressive rush up ice and put on the brakes to stop while on the attack. This opened a passing lane to Nathan Pageau, who with one slick move put it past the helpless keeper. And it was 1-0 Blast, not even four minutes in.
And Brantford kept the heat on in the period with puck possession one-sided, making it appear like they were on a powerplay. As a spectator, I felt the need to count the Whitby skaters on several occasions to be sure they weren’t actually a man down, because it sure seemed like it.
However, Whitby managed to end the first period with the deficit no worse than one, despite all the offensive pressure Brantford was exuding.
Whitby started the second period trapping better using just one man on their forecheck, cutting down Brantford’s room to skate. Therefore, the Blast were forced to dump it in. On one such occasion, the goalie had time to play the puck. He did, and on a ballsy play, he attempted a skip pass through his zone into the neutral zone for his forward. However, like a football safety on help defense, Rob Hisey stepped into the lane, intercepting the pass. He then simply set the puck down, in stride, and snapped it into the awning cage while the goaltender was frantically diving back to his crease.
Things opened up in a big way after this goal and teams traded goals (in about five minutes of game-play, teams scored four goals!). The first of these was Brantford scoring a beauty off the rush. Timothy Kennedy and Cam Fergus both handled the biscuit before Chris Lawrence went to the backhand and went upstairs over the keeper to cap the rush.
Whitby avenged this one, too, rather quickly. But just as fast, Brantford’s Pageau was back to it, as he shot up the ice past the defense on a breakaway. He paused before snapping it up, bardown, to restore the Blast’s two-goal margin with his second goal of the game.
Pageau, earning rights to start the third period, rewarded that decision. Just fifteen seconds in, Pageau on a burst of speed, blazed all the way in past the D for a mini-breakaway. He moved the goalie post-to-post but the keeper managed to keep it out. However, the rebound was picked up and thrown up and over the floored goaltender (below) by one of the few former and current Blast players, Jason Pitton, to build Brantford’s lead to three. Sean Blanchard also assisted on the goal.
Still exhibiting great zone time, Brantford passed it around stealthily, waiting for something to open up. And it did. Nick Tuzzolino, in a busy period for him personally, from the right point, found Andrew Radjenovic who got himself open in the opposite circle and shot it high into the Whitby net, which displayed two tactics the Blast had evidently scouted:
First, the cross-seam pass was a theme for Brantford tonight and the Whitby sticks were just too slow to stop the seam passes from getting through. This often led to difficult shots for the Whitby keeper, Matt Cammelari, who was left out to dry many times on the night.
Second, the Blast shooters all seemed to be aiming high, as most of their goals were up and over Cammelari.
And that would be more than enough scoring to cement the game. The final score: Brantford 6. Whitby 3.
The Blast and myself here at Brant.one would like to send out a happy holidays to their fans! The Blast sent their fans home with an early present, a big win on Friday night, and they appear to be in great position entering the second half of the season.
The next game for the Blast in Brantford at Civic Centre is scheduled for January 10th in the year 2020! As Blast announcer Norm Tolhurst would say “Don’t ya dare miss it.”