The Owen Sound NorthStars saw their quest to regain the Ontario Senior B lacrosse championship go badly off the rails on Saturday night.
Now they need to regroup if they have any hope of reclaiming the Clare Levack Trophy from the St. Catharines Saints.
The Saints won Game 2 of this best-of-seven series in stunning fashion at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, scoring into an empty net as the final buzzer went off to claim a 7-6 victory. They now lead the series 2-0.
The score was tied 6-6 when Owen Sound called a time out with 28 seconds left on the clock. Seeking the winning goal without having to go to overtime, head coach Brandon Sanderson pulled netminder Ryan Masters in favour of an extra runner, assuming the NorthStars would control the ball and get a good scoring chance as time ran out.
But a pass went awry and the ball wound up in the stick of Jay Thorimbert of the Saints, who sprinted down the floor untouched and just beat the buzzer with the easiest goal he'll ever score.
It was a devastating blow for the NorthStars, who had clawed their way back from an early 3-0 deficit and led 6-5 with less than five minutes left in the third period.
And it's the second straight game in which Owen Sound spotted St. Catharines a sizable lead. In Friday's series opener, the Saints led 5-1 after one period before the NorthStars mounted a comeback that proved to be too little too late as the Saints won 10-7.
St. Catharines is now two wins away from successfully defending the championship they won last year from Owen Sound. Although it's fair to note that, a year ago, it was Owen Sound who won the first two games and then watched the Saints roar back with four straight wins.
The NorthStars would love to repeat that accomplishment, but they'll need a bigger commitment from their offence and certainly from their goaltending. Ryan Masters was shaky at times on Saturday, allowing goals on the first two shots he faced. The Saints led 3-0 before the game was five minutes old.
But Owen Sound's offence also needs to step up. The NorthStars registered 56 shots on St. Catharines netminder Jake Henhawk, but many of them were from outside and were easily stopped by the big man.
For the second game in a row, none of the NorthStars had more than one goal. Nate Sanderson, Bryan Kazarian, Brandon McMillen, Adam Jones, Jeff Ivey and Travis Gibbons were the scorers. Jamie Grimoldby chipped in three assists.
Dylan Llord had a hat trick for the Saints while Thorimbert scored twice and Andrew Potter and Jason Henhawk each scored once. Brad Favero added four helpers.
Coach Sanderson says Saturday's loss was not the fault of Masters, who made 24 saves. He stresses the need for his big guns on offence to start paying the price in order to get to the Saints net and start to really challenge their goaltender.
He also says he'll second-guess himself all week about the call to pull his own goalie in what's usually a low-risk play which, in this case, backfired badly. Even NorthStars assistant coach Mark Kazarian, who's been around the sport of lacrosse his entire life, says he has never seen a game end like that.
Game 3 is set for next Saturday night in St. Catharines. Game 4 will be next Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Bayshore.
The winner of this series will represent Ontario at the Presidents Cup national championship in Spruce Grove, Alberta, later this month.