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2008 Starts with a Win!Tweet
But it would be new captain and NHL veteran Willsie who would score the biggest goal, making sure to not disappoint the 10,868 fans in attendance for the team’s home opener.
Just 1:18 into the overtime frame, Willsie’s wrist shot from in between the circles found the back of the net, sending the fans at The Q into a frenzy, and Willsie’s new teammates onto the ice to mob their captain. “The ice was pretty choppy towards the end of the game and I just wanted to get a shot on net,” said Willsie. “I was able to get the shot on goal and was fortunate enough for it to deflect off the defenders stick and go in the goal.”
The beginning wasn’t nearly as pretty as the ending. A mere :53 seconds into the game, Ryan Oulahen scored for the Griffins. Although that wasn’t exactly the way he wanted to start the season, goaltender Jason Bacashihua stood on his head the rest of the game, making 32 saves on the next 34 shots, turning away numerous odd man rushes and point blank opportunities.
“It was a quick goal and very early in the game, so there was a lot of hockey to be played,” said Bacashihua. “ You just have to shake that off and refocus. My job is to keep the team in the game and I was able to do that, and the boys were able to put the puck in the net tonight.”
The wild first period also featured something hockey fans won’t see too often: two penalty shots. Kyle Cumiskey was turned away 4:30 into the game by Griffin netminder Daniel Larsson. But not wanting to be outdone by his opponent 200 feet away, Bacashihua stalled Darren Helm on his penalty shot three minutes later.
It was only a matter of time before the Monsters got on the board. Minutes after Helm was denied, Brian Willsie served Marty Sertich his first goal as a Lake Erie Monster on a silver platter, putting it right on the center’s stick for a touch in goal.
As was the case throughout the entire game, Grand Rapids would come right back. All alone on Bacashihua, forward Ville Leino deked to the back hand, just sliding the puck under the left pad of the goalie, giving Grand Rapids the lead, 2-1.
It was enforcer Jesse Boulerice who would tie the game up for Lake Erie. Taking a feed from T.J. Galiardi, the 6’2, 215-lb. right winger flicked a quick wrist shot over the glove of Larsson and under the cross bar to even the score in the beginning minutes of the third.
Just over a minute and a half later, almost five minutes into the third, Griffin forward Justin Abdelkader would score what Bacashihua described as a “fluke goal.” Streaking into the zone, Abdelkader threw a puck on net that deflected off another player’s stick and fluttered over the goalie’s glove, putting the Griffins back on top.
But the resilient Monsters would battle back. With just under seven minutes left and on the power play, rookie defenseman Nigel Williams launched a bomb from the point, one timing a feed from Per Ledin to even the score.
Before the game would reach the extra period, the Griffins had one last chance to take the lead as Williams went off for hooking with just less than four minutes left in regulation. Not wanting the fans to go home disappointed, Bacashihua made a number of remarkable saves and even got some help from forward Tom Fritsche. Showing no regard for his body, the Parma, Ohio, native threw himself right into the path of a slap shot, making sure to keep the game knotted at three.
“We killed off two very big power plays at the end of the third period,” said head coach Joe Sacco. “When you kill off penalties like that, your goaltender is a big reason why and Bacashihua had a great game for us tonight. The guys stuck with it and never gave up.”
After killing off the man advantage, the Monsters went into the overtime period with the momentum, and it wouldn’t take long before Willsie would send the crowd home with a season-opening win.
“Late in the game shutting down their power play was a huge momentum boost for us going into overtime,” said Bacashihua. “Willsie came in with a good hard shot to win the game.” And some of that success, according to Bacashihua, was from the “teammates” who never hopped the boards for a shift.
“The fans were really into the game and we had a great crowd,” Bacashihua said. “With them being as loud as they were, they are our sixth man out there and it feels good to come out with a win for them.” The Monsters won’t have too long to enjoy the win, however. The team will come back in less than 24 hours to host the Toronto Marlies at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.
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