Yates Hat Trick Gives Wolves Dramatic Overtime Victory
By Al Kessler
Winston-Salem, NC - For the first time in 10 years the Triad would host a playoff hockey game as the 3rd place finishing Carolina Thunderbirds would start up a best-of-3 series against the Watertown Wolves. The teams would tie the regular season series with 5 wins apiece, with Carolina holding a 4-2 advantage when playing at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. Both teams are battling for a chance to play in the Federal Hockey League's Commissioner’s Cup Finals.
To start the Playoffs, both teams would go with a goaltender whose season started with a different team. For Watertown, it would be Sebastien Dube-Rochon in between the pipes. The Quebec native began his season with the Cornwall Nationals and was 13-12-3 with that team, putting up a 3.93 goals-against average, and a .902 save percentage. Since coming to Watertown he has won 2 and lost 1 in overtime, with a 2.88 goals-against average, and a .908 save percentage. For Carolina, it would be Christian Pavlas, the former North Shore Knight and rookie out of Bratislava, SK. During his time with the Knights Pavlas would post a 2-10 record alongside a 5.58 goals-against average, and a .871 save percentage. Since coming to Carolina he would post an 8-6-1 record, with a 3.25 goals-against average, and a .910 save percentage.
Both teams’ offenses would be on display in the first period, as they would welcome in playoff hockey with fast, physical play up and down the ice. The teams would combine for 35 shots in just the first period, and only one man would be able to score, but he would get 2. Just 3:10 into the period Thunderbirds Captain Josh Pietrantonio would win the faceoff right onto the stick of Rick O’Connor, whose quick release would zip in past Dube-Rochon; 1-0, Carolina. The Wolves would ramp up the physical play and offensive chances, but tempers would boil over at 4:34 when Tyler Gjurich and Vojtech Zemlicka would take coincidental roughing minors. As soon as he would leave the box after serving the roughing penalty, Zemlicka would be called for interference, sending the Wolves on the power play. Watertown would challenge the Thunderbirds, but Carolina would kill off the man-advantage. Watertown would find themselves in penalty trouble shortly afterwards, however, when at 9:05 Troy Polino would take a 5 minute boarding major penalty. During the major penalty, Watertown’s Cameron Dimmitt would also take a tripping minor, but the Wolves would not only kill off the 5-on-3, but the entire 5 minute major as well. At 18:02, however, the Thunderbirds would break into the offensive zone 3-on-2 after a neutral zone turnover. Pietrantonio would slide the puck across for Salak, who would tap it across for O’Connor. O’Connor would once again find twine, making it 2-0, Carolina. Carolina would outshoot the Wolves 18-17 headed into the first intermission.
The contest would blow wide open in the second period, as just 12 seconds into the period Sebastien Dube-Rochon would give the puck up in his own zone, right onto the stick of Josh Pietrantonio. Pietrantonio would find Jan Salak in front of the empty net for a 3-0, Carolina lead early. A host of penalties would befall both teams, but in one of the rare breaks between power play and penalty-kill time, a Rick O’Connor shot would be deflected by Pietrantonio in front, finding the twine and ending Dube-Rochon’s night. The Wolves would be able to finally respond, when at 14:43 Gavin Yates would stop the bleeding with a short-handed goal to make it 4-1, Carolina heading into the second intermission. Watertown would outshoot the Thunderbirds 17-9 in the period, for a two period total of 34-27, Wolves.
The late goal by the Wolves would give them the momentum headed into the third period. Just over 5 minutes in, Anton Lennartsson would score to cut the Thunderbirds lead in half. Watertown would keep up the pressure, and at 11:44 Gavin Yates would score his 2nd of the contest to make it 4-3, Carolina. The FHL’s leading scorer had been quiet, but just 27 seconds after Yate’s goal, Tyler Gjurich would tie the game up at 4. The teams would tie for shots at 11 in the third, giving Watertown a 45-38 advantage headed into the overtime period tied at 4.
In the overtime frame each team would have a power play opportunity, starting with Watertown. The Thunderbirds would kill off the penalty, and shortly after would get one of their own. During the power play an errant pass would squib out to center ice, and Gavin Yates would chase it down and break in alone. Yates would beat Pavlas for the hat trick and the short-handed game-winner.
In the loss Pavlas would stop 41 of 46 sent his way. Dube-Rochon would be pulled after making 19 saves on 23 shots and allowing 4 goals. Cody Karpinski would get the win in relief, stopping all 21 he would face. Carolina allowed a league-leading 9 short-handed goals during the regular season, and on Friday night allowed 2 to the Wolves in the loss. Neither team would score on the power play, despite having combined for 15. Attendance tonight was 2,153.
The Thunderbirds will travel north to Watertown, NY for Game 2 of the series. The puck will drop on Saturday the 14th at 7:30 PM from the Watertown Municipal Arena, and you can hear the Honda of Winston-Salem Pre-Game Show starting at 7:05 PM EDT on the Thunderbirds Radio Network. If necessary, the deciding Game 3 will be played on Sunday the 15th in Watertown and will be a 4:00 PM puck drop, with the Honda of Winston-Salem Pre-Game Show starting at 3:35 PM.
In addition, season tickets for the 2018-2019 regular season are on sale now. To reserve your seats for Thunderbirds hockey, or for more information, please visit www.carolinathunderbirds.com or call (336) 774-GOAL(4625).
Photo credit: V. Khouri