March 28, 2015
By Nathan Fournier, Sun Journal
Game 1 of the North American 3 Eastern Hockey League Championship series was a microcosm of the New Hampshire Fighting Spirit's season as they allowed a late goal in a 4-2 loss to the Jersey Shore Wildcats on Friday night at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
With 1:14 remaining in the contest, the Wildcats broke a 2-2 deadlock as Jiri Hajda got the puck past Fighting Spirit goalie Adam Hidgon right before the net came off its moorings to score the game-winning goal.
Justin Apgar scored the empty-netter with 21 seconds remaining.
"I just got done saying. We give up goals to lose the game with two minutes to play, one minute to play, 28 seconds left to play in overtime, are (on) turnovers," New Hampshire Fighting Spirit coach Rod Simmons said. "We had three opportunities to win the game in the third period. We didn't put the puck in the net. That's the way it is.
"They are an optimistic team and they have got offense and they can score. I think we do well playing against them, but we need to put pucks into the net."
Midway through the third period, New Hampshire had a glorious chance with two players facing the goalie, but made one too many passes and missed an open net as Wildcats goalie Marc Schlaeger was on the ice leaving the net exposed.
"In that case, we are looking at each other — what just happened here," Jersey Shore Wildcats coach Eric Brule said on the missed opportunity. "I guess it was a break down in the neutral zone and someone fell. I am not sure."
"I will have to watch the tape and look around. It's a game of mistakes. You try to eliminate most of those if possible. They are still kids, 18, 19 and 20 year olds, and I think that creates a great product for entertainment as well."
The Wildcats jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Alexandre Racicot jumped on the loose puck in the slot and fired the puck past Fighting Spirit goalie Adam Higdon. Assists on the play went to Alexander Tan and Ilya Spektor as the tally came at the 5:10 mark of the opening frame.
Brule said the opening period was an opportunity for both teams to both teams feel each other out.
"When you got two great teams, it's like a boxing match and maybe the first round or so, you get a feel for one and other," Brule said. "We are a great match without a doubt. You just said it, every time we play each other, the game could go either way. It's fun, I am sure it's entertaining to for the fans. It's high quality hockey and we are proud to be apart of it."
The second period opened up and the Fighting Spirit got the game's first power play 6:17 into the period when Adam Skutchan went off for hooking. New Hampshire captain Mike Callaghan tied the game 40 seconds into the power play when he jammed the puck home with Alex Peddle notching the lone assist.
The Fighting Spirit were 1-for-2 on the man advantage, while Jersey Shore was 0-for-2
Jersey Shore responded 48 seconds later at the 7:45 mark. Spektor notched his second point of the contest as he put home the puck, with Austin Crane and Racicot adding the helpers.
New Hampshire fought back to tie the contest when Mike Heffernan fought for the puck on the right side boards and dished the it to a streaking Frederic Puginwho put the puck in the back of the net with 7:43 remaining in the middle frame. Nick Pino was credited with a secondary assist.
"We tried to utilize our cycles down low and we cycled the puck well, and we got pucks to the front of the net," Simmons said. "It ended up in the back of the net and those things need to happen, I am not sure we set up our cycle real well and a lot today. We had plenty of chances to win the game boys and we didn't."
The two teams entered the dressing room tied at two after the Fighting Spirit had to kill off a late period penalty and another penalty early in the third period but couldn't build off any momentum on the two penalty kills.
"At this point of the year we look for an incentive we can get," Simmons said. "I don't care if the Zamboni stalls, we look for an incentive, right? The bottom line any chance you got to jump or a momentum swing, on our penalty kills are very important.
"Our special teams are important. We had a power-play goal tonight and we shut down their power play. That's important stuff when it comes down to five-on-five. That's where mistakes come to play."
Higdon made 31 saves for the Fighting Spirt, while Schlaeger turned aside 30 shots for the victory.
The Fighting Spirit, who are relocating to Lewiston next season, face elimination in tonight's game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee at 7 p.m.