Pat Payton, Gazette sports editor
It was defence first Monday night at the Allman Arena.
Neither side wanted to give up a premium scoring chance and Stratford Cullitons ground out a deserving 3-1 victory over Waterloo Siskins in front of about 750 spectators.
The win gives Cullitons a 2-1 lead in their Midwestern Conference quarter-final playoff series. They can take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven affair with a victory on home ice Wednesday night. Game time at the Allman is 7:30 p.m.
Game 5 is Thursday in Waterloo. If a sixth game is necessary, it will be Friday in Stratford. If the series goes the limit, Game 7 is Sunday in Waterloo. All are 7:30 p.m. face-offs as well.
Cullitons limit chances
In Game 3 Monday, Siskins held a 45-33 edge in shots, including 17-8 in the second period, but the visitors were held to just a handful of quality scoring chances by the Cullitons who earned high marks for a solid defensive effort.
“I talk to the guys quite a bit about this,” Stratford coach Phil Westman said. “There are shots on net and grade ‘A’ shots, and those are the ones we try and limit. We kept them to the outside pretty well tonight.
“And when you get that lead, you have to play tight in your own end. I didn’t want to turn it into a smothering defensive type of game, but we gave up too many shots–especially in the second period. We were shorthanded way too much, and we can’t be successful taking that many penalties. You just surrender too much momentum.”
Cullitons jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Shane O’Brien and rookie Ryker Killins. Killins scored what proved to be the winner at 19:01 after a taking a great goal-mouth pass from Dylan Wettlaufer.
Just shortly after he was stopped on a breakaway by Nick Caldwell, Jimmy Soper got Waterloo on the scoreboard at 5:14 of the second period. Siskins had a great chance to pull even late in the period when Stratford winger Mitch Vandergunst was sent off for four minutes for spearing.
However, Caldwell and the Cullitons’ penalty-killing units were very effective and even drew an interference penalty, which nullified the Siskins’ powerplay.
Jared Culliton gave Stratford some insurance at 7:07 of the third. Sprung into the clear by a long pass, the veteran centre scored the prettiest goal of the night–snapping a beauty over the left shoulder of Waterloo goalie Darren Huck.
Cullitons had a great chance to put it away midway through the third. They held a lengthy 5-on-3 powerplay, and had numerous scoring chances, but Huck and the Siskins weathered the storm.
“That was a tough hockey game tonight, and we got a lot of mileage out of some guys,” Westman added. “It was a good character builder.
“It was a good game by both teams; Waterloo really worked hard here tonight, too.”
Caldwell finished with 44 saves.
Stratford 6 – Waterloo 2
In Game 2 Sunday afternoon in Waterloo, some line shuffling paid off as Cullitons came up with a huge 6-2 victory over the Siskins in front of almost 800 spectators.
“It was definitely a must win today; we were in big trouble if we didn’t win today,” coach Westman said. “It was a real team effort, from Nick (Caldwell) out. That’s what we need, all 21 guys playing.”
It was Stratford’s fourth straight game in Waterloo (including two in a row to finish the 51-game regular schedule).
Cullitons got some offence from some players who don’t score a lot–Brett Heaman, Mitch Vandergunst and defenceman Jeff McArdle.
Goals by Heaman and Ryan Watson staked the visitors to an early 2-0 lead before Waterloo’s Evan Buehler, on a powerplay, scored his third goal of the series with just over five minutes left in the first period.
It stayed 2-1 until McArdle fired his first of the season at 16:36 of the second period. “He came out of the penalty box and scored on a breakaway,” Westman said. “It really gave our team a big boost.”
Goals by Vandergunst and Jared Culliton gave Stratford a commanding 5-1 lead before the six-minute mark of the third. Siskins replaced starter Darren Huck with PJ Bridges following the Culliton goal. Waterloo’s Ryan Doucette and Cullitons’ Ryker Killins traded goals midway through the period to complete the scoring.
In the playmaking department for Stratford, Shane O’Brien collected three assists, while Dylan Wettlaufer, Mitch Brooks and captain Andrew Barton had two apiece.
“We had lost two in a row in Waterloo,” Westman said. “I wanted to give them a different look going in here today, so I changed the lines at practice (Saturday). I switched the lines up a little bit.”
He noted that the trio of Wettlaufer, Vandergunst and Heaman was very effective Sunday. Only the veteran line of Barton, Watson and Jake Ryan stayed intact.
Waterloo 4 – Stratford 3
In the series opener Friday night in Waterloo, Evan Buehler’s second goal of the game–early in the third period–snapped a 3-3 tie and gave Siskins a 4-3 victory over the Cullitons in front of over 700 fans.
Siskins opened up a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Stephen Witluk and Christian Mroczkowski.
However, Cullitons battled back to grab a 3-2 advantage with three straight second-period goals. The marksmen were Shane O’Brien, Brett Heaman and Jake Ryan, on a powerplay.
Just over a minute after Ryan put Stratford in front at 13:14, Buechler tied it 3-3–also on a powerplay. His game winner came at 1:21 of the third.
Overall, Waterloo held a 33-31 edge in shots. Huck out-duelled Caldwell for the net decision.
Both sides took 10 minutes in penalties, but a couple of infractions by the Cullitons proved costly, coach Westman pointed out.
“We had a couple of dumb penalties to be honest, and the dumb penalties cost us the hockey game,” he said. “You can’t win playoff games that way. It’s so magnified this time of year . . . you have to be disciplined and not take penalties.
“But we competed well tonight; we played a good hockey game,” the coach continued. “I thought we had a good territorial advantage and out-played them a lot of the night.
“We just have to win Sunday,” Westman added.