The London Nationals came agonizingly close to their second Sutherland Cup championship, but the four-time defending Western Conference champs fell short once again, losing 3-2 to Waterloo Siskins in Game 7 Wednesday night in front of 1,674 at Western Fair Sports Centre.
The Nats held a 2-1 lead with five minutes left in the game when James Turner was called for hooking.
Sam Spaedt scored 52 seconds into the power play to tie the game and Alec Tiley wired a bullet over the shoulder of London goalie Zachary Springer at 15:30 to send the Siskins into celebration.
Both teams played tight defensively and although Nationals coach and general manager Pat Powers felt his team did everything it could to win the game, they missed some chances that could have put the Siskins away.
“We got shots but we didn’t generate enough offence,” Powers said. “There were pucks hanging around that we just couldn’t take advantage of.”
Both goalies were sharp. Springer and Waterloo’s Matt Onuska each made 33 saves.
Wednesday night’s marathon battle was a reflection of a close, tense and highly entertaining series.
“You look at it and it’s Game 7 and it’s in overtime and they got one more shot on net than we did and it turned out to be the game winner,” Powers said. “That’s how close it was.”
Powers, who has coached the Nats to four straight Western titles, said it’s unfortunate the Nats have stumbled on the final step, but he said he will eventually look back fondly on another amazing journey.
“I’m most proud of the culture we have in our dressing room,” he said. “Our guys love each other. They battle hard for each other and they enjoy coming to the rink, win, lose or draw. I’ll remember that.”
Waterloo coach Todd Hoffman said at the start of the season, he knew his team was a talented group with the potential to do something really special and he reminded his players of that going into overtime.
“They just continue to believe that they are going to win every hockey game,” Hoffman said. “Every time we stepped on the ice the belief that they had was they were going to win and tonight was no different.”
Cal Davis opened the scoring on a low shot from the point on a power play to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead about five minutes into the second period.
Curtis Rawn answered for Waterloo with 6.5 seconds left in the second, but any momentum the Siskins took from that goal was quashed when Davis broke in alone and flipped a backhand by Onuska 10 seconds into the third.
The teams exchanged a couple chances in a tight opening period with London edging Waterloo 13-12 in shot on goal.