The Lakehead Thunderwolves fell 5-3 to the Waterloo Warriors in the Wolves regular season finale at the Columbia Ice Fields in Waterloo, Ontario on Saturday night.
Waterloos Justin Larson scored the only goal of the first period when he found himself all alone in the slot and rifled the puck past Lakehead goalie Alex Dupuis stick side after a nice feed from Colin Behenna.
Dupuis was solid in the opening frame, as was Warriors netminder Keaton Hartigan, who bounced back nicely after having a tough time at Lakehead last Saturday. Waterloo outshot Lakehead 13-12 in the first.
The floodgates opened early in the second period, beginning when he Warriors Jared Parent went end-to-end before finding Josh Wooley, who made no mistake from right in front of Dupuis just 51 seconds into the middle stanza.
Lakeheads Luke Judson cut the lead to 2-1 at the 2:11 mark after being set up by Andrew Wilkins and Mike MacDonald, but Waterloos Jeff Einhorn replied 35 seconds later with a seeing-eye wrist shot from the point that eluded Dupuis.
The Wolves responded at 4:57 and narrowed the margin to 3-2 on a goal by Chris De la Lande with assists going to Jason Grecica and Adam Sergerie.
Sergerie just missed tying the game midway through the period when he hit the post on a clear breakaway. Shortly after, Lakeheads Mike MacDonald was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway while short-handed, but the puck sailed just wide on his attempt.
Shots on goal in were 15 to 11 for Lakehead in the wide-open middle stanza, one in which neither team looked particularly sound defensively.
Lakehead caught a break while short-handed at 5:42 of the third period when the Hartigan was caught out of the Warriors net after to trying to handle the Wolves clearing attempt. The puck took a funny bounce of the back boards to right in front of the Waterloo goal, where Caria pounced on it and fired the puck into the empty cage to knot the score at 3-3.
It looked like Lakehead was headed for its second overtime game in a row, but Waterloos Brett Mackie broke the deadlock with just 1:52 remaining when he shoveled a rebound past Dupuis from just outside the crease, giving the Warriors the 4-3 lead.
Lakehead pulled Dupuis for an extra attacker with 1:12 left on the clock, but Waterloo iced the game just 11 seconds later when Parent broke loose and scored on the empty net to make it 5-3 for the Warriors.
Lakehead outshot Waterloo 8-5 in the third period and 35-29 for the game.
With the loss, the Wolves finish their OUA regular season with a record of 17-9-2, good for 36 points. That leaves Lakehead currently in second place In the West Division, but just one point in front of the Windsor Lancers, who could leap-frog the Wolves with a win at Waterloo on Sunday night in the final game of the OUA regular season.
Theresult of Sundays Windsor-Waterloo contest will determine Lakeheads opponent in the first round of the playoffs. Pending that outcome, the Wolves have three potential match-ups for the OUA quarter-finals; Waterloo, York, or Laurier.
Either way, Lakehead will have home-ice advantage for at least the first round. Game one of the best-of-three West Division quarter-finals will take place Wednesday night at either York, Laurier or Waterloo. The series will then shift to Thunder Bay for game two on Friday night, and if necessary, game three on Saturday night.
Tickets for Fridays game two at the Fort William Gardens are on sale now at the Gardens box office.