By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
Brantford Blast’s trip to an undefeated Allan Cup round robin, and semi-final reservation ran into a roadblock known as Clarenville Caribous goaltender Jason Churchill, Wednesday night at J.L. Grightmire Arena.
Churchill shut down the southern Ontario champion Blast’s high-powered offence for 41 minutes through the middle of the final round robin match-up between the two previously undefeated teams. In the end, a 6-2 win earned Clarenville a guaranteed spot in a Friday semi-final – and a full day’s rest on Thursday.
Brantford actually got on the scoreboard first, with Mike Ruberto’s goal nine minutes into the first period.
“I don’t let it bother me,” Churchill said after the game. “If a shot goes in, you can’t let it affect you.”
He explained that when a puck does get past him, he just concentrates on stopping the next one.
It helps when your offence responds with goals of their own when their goalie lets one through. That’s what Clarenville did – about 52 seconds after Brantford’s marker. Chris Hulit popped a puck past Brantford goalie Anthony Marshall, with assists from Ryan Desrosiers and Peter Campbell.
After adding four more goals they did it again.
Brantford’s Kyle Spurr got one past Churchill with about 10 minutes left in the third period to make the score 5-2, for Clarenville. Chad Spurr and Joel Prpic assisted.
Hulit scored his second of the game – assisted again by Campbell and Desrosiers – a full 53 seconds later.
“I have all the faith in this team,” Churchill said.
Clarenville’s defence wasn’t just hanging out. They consistently made sure their goalie faced as few second shots as possible. When he stopped one, they generally cleared the puck.
“Our back-end is strong,” Churchill said.
Clarenville forward Andrew Sweetland scored twice, Wednesday night. He put in the Caribous’ second and fifth goals, but handed a lot of credit to his team’s goalie.
“He played like that all year,” Sweetland said. “We rely on him a lot. He’s good at controlling his rebounds.”
And just like an opponent’s goal only makes Churchill want to stop the next one, Sweetland said: “When they score, we just want to come back that much harder.”
Brantford’s regular number one goaltender suffered an apparent slight injury in the pre-game warm-up, so back-up goalie Anthony Marshall got the start. Blast player-of-the-game Chad Spurr said Brett Leggat is fine and will be ready to go for Thursday’s quarter-final against the Bentley Generals – defending Allan Cup champions.
Spurr credited Clarenville’s goalie and defense for holding down Brantford’s goal scorers.
“He’s a great goalie,” Spurr said of Churchill. “He’s big, he covers the net well. Their ‘D’ is big and strong, and kept us on the outside.”
But Spurr and Brantford aren’t concerned about having to battle through a quarter-final and semi final to get to Saturday’s championship – in the next three days, with the threat of one loss ending their Allan Cup tournament.
While Dundas and Clarenville said the day off and guaranteed semi final spot is a big deal, Spurr pointed out Brantford won the Allan Cup in 2008 after losing their first game. They had to battle through and beat a team in the final who was coming off two days rest.
“It just depends how you look at it,” Spurr said.
Brantford faces Bentley at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the first of two quarter-final games. Kenora and South East Prairie Thunder of Manitoba meet in the 7:30 p.m. semi final.