They had their backs to the wall, but they lived to play another day Sunday at the Pyramid Rec. Centre.
Trailing their six-point OMHA semi-final playoff series five points to one, the Independent Grocer ‘BB’ Atoms had no choice but to win to stay alive against a strong Acton team.
And St. Marys did just that . . . in thrilling fashion. Backed by the superb goaltending of Jake Bryans, the Rock emerged with a nail-biting 3-2 victory over the Tanners in front of a large cheering crowd.
Bryans was easily the game’s first star.
“We do our best when we play for each other,” coach John Bolton pointed out following the game. “You can tell on the bench when the guys are ready to play for the guy beside him and the guy ahead of him in line. And that’s when we come out of the gates flying. It was a team effort today.”
“I was so proud of our boys’ heart today,” assistant coach Scott Taylor added.
St. Marys’ Jacob Wiles opened the scoring at 8:35 of the first period from Blake Boreham and Devin Johnston. Acton tied it on a powerplay at 12:53.
Boreham put the Rock ahead to stay at 5:48 of the middle frame, firing a low shot that the Acton goalie deflected up high into the net. Wiles and Ethan Aarts assisted.
With 2:42 left in the second stanza, Eric Taylor was sprung loose for a breakaway and the forward scored a picture goal. He neatly picked the corner on the Acton goalie, and the goal would stand up as the game winner. Matt Payette and defenceman George Hensel assisted.
Bryans, meanwhile, was under siege the entire second period, and he kept his team in front with save after save. He made a huge blocker save early in the third to keep St. Marys up by two.
The visitors continued to apply strong pressure, but Bryans had an answer for any Acton opportunity, including a breakaway stop with 5:58 to play.
With 3:36 left on the clock, Acton closed the gap to 3-2 after the Rock failed to clear the puck from their zone. The visitors had a couple of great chances in the final minute, and the game ended with a mad scramble around the St. Marys net, but the puck stayed out.
“Acton is a great team; a real hard forechecking team,” coach Bolton continued. “The biggest problem we have is that they pin us in our end and we have to be careful that we don’t lose our momentum down low. Once we get the forecheck going on them, we can control the play down in the other end.
“Both teams are really, really hard forechecking teams. They are fun games to coach in.”
High praise for Bryans
The coach had high praise for his goaltender.
“Typically, Jake wins us games all the time,” Bolton said. “The guys put the effort in because they know Jake is back there and if somebody makes a mistake he bails everybody out. He is a big pivotal part of this team.”
The hard-fought series started Feb. 23 in Acton, and the teams battled to a 2-2 tie. The following day in St. Marys, Acton claimed a 2-1 victory.
In Game 3 this past Saturday in Acton, the Tanners took a commanding lead in the series with a 3-2 win. Owen Hartman and Eric Taylor scored the Rock goals.
This weekend: Game 5 is this Saturday, March 9 in Acton at 4:30 p.m. If the Grocer Atoms can win it, Game 6 is in St. Marys the following day. Starting time is 5 p.m.