The London Knights had a flair for the dramatic all season, but fell one goal short in the MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal.
Ty Rattie scored the winner in the third period and Mac Carruth made 34 saves Friday as the Portland Winterhawks survived a furious comeback attempt to defeat London 2-1.
Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones said the final moments were tense as London, which fought back from a 3-1 series deficit in the Ontario Hockey League final and scored the series clincher with less than a second to go in Game 7, crashed the Portland net looking for the equalizer.
“My heart was beating 1,000 beats a minute and I was out there doing whatever I could to keep the puck out of the net — sliding around everywhere,” said a relieved Jones. “It was definitely a big win for us tonight. We fought hard (but) it was a little closer than I wanted.”
Tyler Wotherspoon also scored and Nicolas Petan added two assists for the Winterhawks, who will take on the Halifax Mooseheads in Sunday’s final that will determine the Canadian Hockey League champion.
Max Domi had the goal for the Knights, while Jake Patterson made 32 stops for London, which defeated the host Saskatoon Blades 6-1 in Thursday’s tiebreaker game.
Rattie had a chance to ice the game into an empty net for the Western Hockey League title holders, but couldn’t find the target as Portland had to sweat out the final minute in their zone with Patterson on the bench for an extra attacker.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Winterhawks coach Travis Green said. “It was a tough game tonight. I thought London played extremely well, especially after playing four games in five nights. Very impressive team that we beat tonight. It was a hard-fought game.”
Knights defenceman Scott Harrington said that although his team can be proud of its effort, the sting of the loss will linger.
“It’s tough. Obviously not the result that we wanted. I thought we had some real good chances and bounces just didn’t go our way — a couple broken sticks on great opportunities to score,” the London captain said. “To lose 2-1, it’s heartbreaking, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Portland’s victory now sets up a dream final involving Jones, the No. 1 ranked North American skater ahead of next month’s NHL draft, and Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who are second and third on the list. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions beat Portland 7-4 during round robin play.
Rattie broke Friday’s 1-1 tie at 8:32 of the third period, circling in the London zone before rifling his tournament-leading fifth goal upstairs on Patterson from the slot.
“He’s a big game player. He does all the little things right and he’s always in the right position,” Carruth said of Rattie. “He sneaks into little quiet areas and finds a way to score. He’s got a great shot.”
The Knights dug deep and had a couple chances late but couldn’t find a way past Carruth.
“He was great tonight,” Green said of his goaltender. “I thought it was his best game of the tournament. Just a great performance by a guy that we’ve leaned on for a long time now. It doesn’t surprise us, but he came up big.”
Knights’ forward Ryan Rupert couldn’t connect on a puck loose in front with just over seven minutes to go before Alex Broadhurt was also denied from in tight. Bo Horvat then came closest in the final minute as London suffered a disappointing end to the tournament for the second straight year after losing the 2012 final to the Shawinigan Cataractes 2-1 in overtime.
“There’s no quit in that room and we knew that we had the potential to win this tournament if we played well. I thought we gave ourselves a good chance,” Harrington said. “It doesn’t make it any easier to swallow but I think we can hold our heads high knowing that we left it all on the ice.”
Added Knights coach Dale Hunter: “The character always comes out at the end and I can’t say enough about the players. They give it right to the end. We’ve seen it so many times this year.”
After a sleepy and scoreless first period, things started to open up a bit in the second. Domi gave London a 1-0 lead on the game’s first power play, wheeling off the sideboards and firing a quick shot past Carruth at 12:43.
Patterson, who robbed Petan and fellow Portland forward Oliver Bjorkstrand earlier in the period, could do nothing on the equalizer as Wotherspoon’s shot from the point found its way in through a screen just 2:08 later.
The London goalie then made a big save on Rattie with 3:20 remaining to keep the score tied as momentum started to shift decidedly in Portland’s favour.
The Winterhawks’ attention now turns to the star-studded and rested Mooseheads, who haven’t played since Tuesday.
“We know we’re going to have our hands full, but I also know that with our team that when we play our best we’re tough to beat,” Green said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in our guys.”
Notes: The Knights are the host team for next year’s tournament. ... Country music singer Paul Brandt sang the national anthems. ... Attendance at the Credit Union Centre was 9,161.