MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Cody Eakin’s prayers went unanswered.
After scoring the first goal of the game against the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, Eakin put his hands together and looked up to the sky before celebrating with teammates. It was as if he was thanking a higher power, but Eakin and his teammates wouldn’t get another chance to celebrate in this game, losing 2-1 to the Majors.
The loss pushes the Western Hockey League champs to the brink with an 0-2 record. The 2009 Windsor Spitfires are the only team to start the tournament with consecutive losses and still go on to win the championship.
“It’s a nice relief (to score),” Eakin admitted after the game.
But the biggest relief was saved for the Majors. After losing the first game of the tournament to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs, the Majors felt this game was a must-win situation.
Mississauga had lost the final two games of the Ontario Hockey League championship series against the Owen Sound Attack and with Friday’s loss to Saint John, equaled their total of consecutive losses in a season.
“It feels great,” Mississauga captain Casey Cizikas said. “Three (losses) in a row — you get kind of sick of it.”
Gritty forward Rob Flick provided the heroics with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation. Flick took a pass from Devante Smith-Pelly as he crossed the blue line and drove hard around Ice defenceman Hayden Rintoul before cutting to the net. His shot went five-hole on Ice goaltender Nathan Lieuwen.
It was similar to his assist on Maxim Kitsyn’s game-tying goal midway through the first period. Flick drove to the net, but was stopped by Lieuwen. Kitsyn rammed the puck, and Lieuwen, into the net to square the game.
“He was by far our best player tonight,” Cizikas said of Flick.
The goal was another reminder of the gaping hole on Kootenay’s defence. The Ice did not have captain Brayden McNabb, who was suspended for this game after a head check on Owen Sound forward Joey Hishon in Saturday’s game.
Without McNabb, several of the Ice defencemen needed to eat those minutes left by McNabb, particularly on the penalty kill, but failed to fill his shoes with a physical presence.
“He’s our captain,” Eakin said. “You miss him.”
Turning points were available for the taking in this contest. The Majors failed to capitalize on two 5-on-3 power-plays, which could have lowered morale for a team that succeeded so much with the man advantage in the playoffs.
“The fact we didn’t capitalize on those could have been the turning point for the worse,” Majors defenceman Marc Cantin said.
With the win, the Majors guaranteed themselves at the very least a tiebreak game on Thursday. They also avoid the possibility of becoming the first team since the 2003 Quebec Remparts to host the tournament and lose their first two games.
“When you play three games and you go down 0-2, that’s a tough hill to climb back up,” Cizikas said. “Not too many teams do it and that’s the beauty of this tournament. You have to bring your A game every game and it can end as quickly as it starts.”
That hill is now facing the Ice. Kootenay will play Saint John in their final round robin game on Tuesday, but will have McNabb back in the lineup.
The Ice are taking a positive outlook on the fact the door isn’t closed yet.
“You have to win one so we’re going to rest up and get back at it on Tuesday,” Eakin said. “We know it’s possible.”
Like the final 12 minutes of the second period in Saturday’s game, the Ice maintained solid pressure at times offensively, but weren’t able to score. In the dying moments, Eakin fired a shot while coming down the left wing to Majors goalie JP Anderson’s blocker side. Anderson knocked it out of mid-air, but the puck slid dangerously close to the near post.
Close calls weren’t only limited to the Majors. Late in the second period on a goal-mouth scramble, the puck dribbled through Lieuwen’s equipment, but stopped inches in front of the goal line. The play had been called since the referee thought Lieuwen had frozen the puck.
After a penalty-filled second period, the officials put their whistles away in the third and let the players decide the outcome.
Mississauga will take on the Attack in their final round-robin game on Wednesday while the Ice will look to stave off elimination against the Sea Dogs on Thursday.