By Erika Dreher
After the Western Mustangs scored twice in less than two minutes in the third period to tie the game at two, it seemed the Ryerson Rams’ first playoff game of the season would be headed for overtime.
However, with 1:29 left on the clock, Ryerson defenceman Alex Leader cruised into Western’s zone and scored top shelf in textbook form. Rams forward Steven Harland went on to score an empty net goal, giving the Rams a 4-2 victory over the Mustangs in front of a home crowd at the Mattamy Athletic Centre to take the first game of the best-of-three series.
The end result was the one Ryerson was after, but Rams head coach Johnny Duco was less than impressed with his team’s near-meltdown.
“Instinctively for whatever reason, in hockey, you get the lead and you stop your feet from moving and you take your foot off the gas a little bit,” said Duco, “[Western is] a really offensively gifted team, and if you give them odd-man rushes, they’re going to make you pay.”
Ryerson Goalkeeper Taylor Dupuis echoed his coach’s feelings as to why the two quick, late-game goals were given up.
“I think we played great,” said Dupuis. “But obviously you get into these playoff games, and we know that we have to play a full 60 minutes… going into [Ryerson’s next game on] Friday we know we can’t take any breaks throughout the game.”
The Rams outplayed the Mustangs well into the second period, outshooting the visitors 24-11. The majority of the period was played within Western’s zone, and Ryerson had a clear edge.
“I thought we played really well in the second, which is usually one of our periods where we’re a bit up and down,” said Rams captain Alex Basso. “So, after a good first period, it was good to have a [strong] second.”
The victory gives the Rams a 1-0 series lead in a best-of-three. With the lead, the Rams are confident going into Friday’s second game against the Mustangs, although they know that slipping up late again could easily cost them a game.
“I think that was one of our best games of the year,” said Dupuis. “We came out with a purpose and we finished the game with a purpose.”
On Friday, the Rams’ purpose will be earning a ticket to the second round.
UP NEXT: The Rams will take on Western in Game 2 at Thompson Arena in London, Ont., on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m.