GOALS APLENTY AS RIVER DRAGONS CLINCH REGULAR SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP
by Zak DeBeaussaert
Columbus, GA - The Columbus River Dragons opened the floodgates on the Port Huron Prowlers winning 11-5 and thanks to results elsewhere, clinched the 2021 regular season championship.
Columbus started the scoring early and often in this one. Nick Mangone on the first shift of the game scored two goals within the game's opening 26 seconds. The first of which came on a slick passing play from MJ Graham and Gehrett Sargis, the second an unassisted goal on a drive to the net. Minutes later, Connor Fries made Columbus' lead 3-0 after he collected his own rebound and put it home.
Port Huron's Dalton Jay made it 3-1 with a shorthanded goal 5:22 into the period, sniping the top-left corner on Jacob Caffrey. Columbus was unfazed though as 27 seconds later MJ Graham went 5-hole for his first goal of the year. Then it was Port Huron's turn to not blink, as within 28 seconds of Graham's goal, Alex Johnson scored on a breakaway to make it 4-2.
The end-to-end action wasn't over though, 16 seconds after it was 4-2, Connor Fries found the back of the net again and the score read 5-2 with only 6:33 gone in the first period.
The goal-per-minute pace kept up as MJ Graham buried his second goal of the game at the 8:33 mark to make it 6-2 and chase Nick Niedert out of the game to be replaced by Blake Scott. Dalton Jay then found his second goal of the game on a centering feed from Yianni Liarakos to make it 6-3 with still more than half of the first period to go.
At this point the game began to calm down offensively but one more strike from Austin Daae made the first period look like a football score 7-3 through 20 minutes of play.
In the second period, Columbus continued to pile on with goals as Daae tapped one in from in front with just under 16 minutes to go in the 2nd. Then with eight seconds left in the frame Chase Fallis got a backdoor pass from Connor Fries to make the game 9-3 through 40 minutes.
In the third period, Columbus and Port Huron traded goals to get the game to its final scoreline.
First, it was Jay Croop receiving a nice pass from Nick Mangone to get Columbus into double digits. Port Huron drew back with an odd bounce goal off of Thomas Munichiello and in halfway through the period. Columbus then made it 11 when Mangone fed Mac Jansen for the River Dragons' 11th goal of the game. With about 40 seconds left in the game Matt Graham ended the scoring spree for both teams making the game 11-5.
With about two minutes left in the game, Blake Scott vacated the crease after giving up the 11th goal and Nick Niedert returned to see his final pro game out from between the pipes, a massive sign of respect for a man who has given so much to pro minor hockey (800+ games dressed across 9 different minor leagues). After the game Prowlers and River Dragons skated over to Niedert's crease to show their respect.
Jacob Caffrey gets the win tonight with 16 saves on 21 shots. Nick Niedert took the loss with 6 saves on 12 shots, in relief Blake Scott had 34 saves on the night.
The River Dragons and Prowlers conclude their season on Sunday night at the Civic Center. The pregame show starts at 5:00 on WTVM Bounce 9.2 for a 5:35 puck drop. Tickets available at the Civic Center Box Office or on TicketMaster.
Three Stars of the Game