MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 3, WASHINGTON GALAXY 2 (OT)
Whatever else you might say Game 4 of the SHL Finals, it finished off with a bang. The first three games of the series have followed a familiar pattern: two periods of tense, grinding, defense-first play, followed by a third period of wide-open firewagon hockey. In Game 4, the high-flying action was compressed into the final 5 minutes, as a slow-paced game turned frenetic at the end. It took more than the allotted 60 minutes, but ultimately the Michigan Gray Wolves, thanks to a little-used reserve, pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory over the Washington Galaxy. Michigan moved within a single win of the Vandy, but it came at a steep cost, as the Wolves lost a key offensive playmaker in C Warren Marlow.
“We got the W, and that’s what counts the most,” said Michigan coach Ron Wright. “But losing Warren… that’s a real blow.”
The Wolves notched their win thanks to a little-used reserve. Under ordinary circumstances, F Isaac Preston wouldn’t be expected to play at all in the Finals. He played in only 17 games this season, recording 3 assists and no goals. But when LW Vladimir Beruschko suffered an injury in the last week of the season, Preston was thrust into a starting spot.
“My first priority was, don’t embarrass myself or the team,” said Preston.
The reserve forward made very little impact through the first three games. But in this game, Preston came through when it counted. About a minute into overtime, Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson faked a slapshot from the left faceoff circle. He got Galaxy G Roger Orion to commit, then slid a pass over to Preston. With a wide-open net, Preston buried the game-winning shot under the crossbar.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that open, not even in practice,” said Preston. “If I’d missed it, I’m pretty sure my teammates would have beaten me to death.
Preston’s winner capped a flurry in the final five minutes of frenzied action, which stood in stark contrast to most of the play up to that point. Michigan struggled all game to enter the zone and get shots on net, much as Washington had done in the first two games. Michigan got off only 20 shots in the entire game, including a season-low four in a brutal second period. “It’s like they watched our game film from the first two and turned our own game plan against us,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, were able to generate more offense, but had a devil of a time getting pucks past Wolves goalie Dirk Lundquist. “You can’t fake him out, you can’t sneak one under him, you can’t fool him, nothing,” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman. “I think he must be able to read minds or something.”
Late in the first period, Washington C Eddie Costello beat Lundquist on a breakaway to give the Galaxy the lead. Early in the third, Bailes struck on the power play to tie it up. But that was it for offense… at least until the final five minutes.
With three and a half minutes left in regulation, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz accidentally caught Marlow under the eye with a high stick. On the resulting power play, Wolves C Wesley Knight deflected a slapshot past Orion to put Michigan ahead 2-1.
“That’s on me,” said Camernitz. “In that situation, late in a close game, I can’t take a penalty like that. Got to maintain better control of my stick.”
A disconsolate silence fell over Constellation Center, as the Galaxy seemed doomed to a heartbreaking defeat. But in the waning seconds of the game, Washington launched a final desperate rush. A Thurman slapshot got lost in a scrum in front of the net. The puck bounced between bodies as Lundquist tried to get a glove on it. Finally, with four seconds left, the puck squirted behind Lundquist and over the goal line. Wright challenged the goal, claiming that a Galaxy player had kicked it in. After several minutes of review, the referees upheld the goal, as the crowd exploded with delight. Costello got credit for the tally.
Fortunately for the Wolves, they prevailed in overtime, although with a cost. Marlow made the initial pass that led to Michigan’s winning goal, but he paid for it when Galaxy D Rusty Anderson laid a devastating hit on him and Marlow’s head hit the ice. After the game, he entered the league’s concussion protocol. Wright sounded doubtful that his second-line center would be able to return in the series.
“We’ll have to reevaluate him tomorrow and see where things stand,” said the coach.
The Galaxy suffered a loss as well, with D Leonard Wright being sidelined after taking a rough open-ice hit. He suffered an upper-body injury, and Washington coach Rodney Reagle confirmed that he is likely to miss the rest of the series.
The Galaxy face an uphill battle, having to win the next three games in a row with half of their top defensive pairing on the shelf. “I’ve already got Bartlett’s Book of Inspiring Sports Cliches by my bedside,” said Reagle. “I’ll be working on my big speech tomorrow morning.”