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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

73’s drop Sharks, await Canadiens

Photo by Laurie Beaten

by Garrett Fodor

After dropping the first two games in the best-of-seven series against the Wheatley Sharks in the first round of the Stobbs Division playoffs, the Essex 73’s responded with three straight wins to take the series lead, 3-2.

  After four hard hitting, close playoff games, the Sharks and 73’s were quick to pick up where they left off to start Game 5.

  From puck drop last Tuesday, the teams did not shy away from finishing their hits and doing anything to get under their opponent’s skin.

  But after 20-minutes, like much of the series, it was a battle of goaltenders, between the 73’s Connor Meyerink and the Shark’s Kyle Metson, to see who would crack first. Both were unbeaten after 20-minutes, with Meyerink facing 10 shots to Metson’s nine.

  Finally, seven-minutes into the second, the Sharks rushed the puck out of their end on a delayed penalty, and Shark’s Tallas Smith roofed a shot over Meyerink for the first goal of the game. 

  The Sharks continued to outshoot the 73’s 19-14 after 40-minutes.

  In the third frame, the 73’s came out of the dressing room flying and with an edge. They were quick to hem the Sharks into their zone, and cycle the puck around the offensive zone, generating lanes, looks, and chances.

  Just four-minutes into the period, 73’s Owen Meyerink tied the game at one when his shot from the point sailed past a screened Metson.

  With the game knotted at one, and now in the closing seconds of the final period, and with many fans preparing for another overtime, the 73’s had other plans.

  After dumping the puck in and applying a strong forecheck, the 73’s forwards created a turnover, and in a mad scramble out front of Metson, Jack Sanko was Johnny-on-the-spot and roofed a loose puck over the down-and-out goalie with just 18-seconds remaining.

  Despite a final second push, the Sharks were unable to beat Meyerink again and the 73’s prevailed 2-1 to take a 3-2 series lead. 

After defeating the Sharks with some last second heroics on February 18, Essex entered Game Six Friday night with a 3-2 series lead and the momentum of three straight wins.

  The 73’s were looking to join the likes of Mooretown and Lakeshore, which already had punched their tickets to the Stobbs semi-finals.

  From the opening face off, both teams began slow and passive, trying not to make a mistake early. But much like the series, as the clock dwindled down, the pace of play and physicality turned up.

  The two teams were not shy to throw their weight around and giving each team a look at special teams early as five minors were called in the first 20-minutes. Despite that, the teams were scoreless as Connor Meyerink turned aside nine shots, while Wheatley’s Kyle Metson faced 15.

  In the second period, the Sharks began to get the near capacity crowd behind them, as the Wheatley Area Arena was rowdy with “Go Sharks Go” chants. Though the Sharks were testing Meyerink hard and often, they still were unable to crack him after 40-minutes. The Sharks started the third stanza with a 5-on-3 powerplay.

  Just 23-seconds into the 5-on-3 powerplay, Sharks’ over-ager Josh Talerico blasted a slapshot high over Meyerink’s blocker and below the bar to open the scoring and send fish flying.

  Just four-minutes later, however, the 73’s responded with a powerplay goal of their own, when Jack Sanko banged a loose puck in over a sprawled out Metson. The goal got the traveling 73’s faithful behind the team, chanting “Go 3’s Go” following the goal.

  With five-minutes to play, the 73’s mixed up their lines and sent Darcy Haupt out with Liam Hall and Conor Dembinski for an offensive zone draw.

  After Haupt won the draw back, Dembinski received the puck. And if you blinked, you missed it, as he found the twine for his first goal of the series and gave the 73’s the lead.

  It wasn’t soon after when the 73’s would have to change Meyerink out for Jax D’Hondt with four-minutes to go as Meyerink needed help leaving the ice.

  The 73’s weathered the storm and the Sharks’ pressure in the final minutes. Essex added a pair of empty net goals to take the game 4-1, and the series 4-2.

  The 73’s will now face either the Lakeshore Canadiens or the Mooretown Flags, depending on the winner of the Petrolia and Amherstburg series.

  The entire 73’s organization would also like to thank and congratulate Sharks over-agers Josh Talerico, Matt Taylor, and former 73, Alixe Saliba, on their respective junior hockey careers. 

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