In a series that featured a never-ending stream of ebbs and flows, it was only fitting that the fifth and deciding game of the NOHL (Northern Ontario "AAA" Hockey League) Minor Bantam semi-final between the Soo Jr. Greyhounds and Nickel City Sons would require overtime.
And in a series that featured almost ten goals per game, it was only fitting that the overtime session would not make it to the 40-second mark.
Carmine Perna slammed home a rebound of an offensive foray from Connor Chow-Lynn with just 34 seconds expired in the extra session, giving the Hounds both a 6-5 victory Wednesday night at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex, and also a 3-2 series triumph.
Chow-Lynn paced the Sault Ste. Marie attack, netting a hat trick, while Gabe Zimbaro and Lincoln Moore rounded out the scoring for the winners. Returning from injury for the first time this series, Alex Pharand showed little rustiness, recording a three goal performance of his own, with Kyle Perreault and Dominic Morris adding one marker apiece.
The contest would see the Sons stake themselves to a lead at four different points in the game, only to see the Greyhounds rally to tie the score each and every time.
"The whole series has been that way," said long-time Soo coach Dominic Deluca. "That's playoff hockey and we know that."
It was a wild and woolly affair, indeed, with glorious chances persisting right down to the final buzzer of regulation time. In fact, Soo netminder Jason Alexander came through with a sparkling glove save on Sam McCue, the Sons' sniper somehow left all alone in the slot with but 30 seconds or so showing on the clock.
"They're not perfect, it's bantam hockey," said Deluca of his team. "There's going to be some time spent in our zone, running around a little bit here and there. But at the end of the day, there is a commitment to win from everybody on our team. It was a great team effort and I'm really proud of them."
A familiar face around northern Ontario "AAA" circles for a few decades now, Deluca acknowledged that he has been forced to alter his coaching style, perhaps just a tad, given the nature of the way the game is being played these days.
"People that know me, that know my personality, know that I'm pretty passionate," he said with a smile. "I talk a lot. Here, I have to show some patience. That's my job, to help settle things down. Mistakes are going to happen, they happen at the NHL level. It may be a coach's nightmare, but it also makes things interesting and fun."
Not to mention special, as a very candid and forthright Deluca discussed the unique bond that he has developed with this particular collection of talent.
"I lost my father in early September, and my dad was a big part of what I did in hockey," said Deluca of the passing of Dominic Deluca Sr., just as the 2018-2019 season was kicking off.
"My dad was everywhere with me. There is always going to be a special bond between me and these kids, because I have been through that and these guys were there for me. Hockey is therapeutic for me," said Deluca.
"I didn't know much about this group, but I told them, just give me some time, give our coaching staff time, and we'll find a way to help them grow as players."
The Jr. Greyhounds will now advance to face the North Bay Trappers in the league final.
North Bay topped the standings this year with a record of 21-3-3, followed by Nickel City (17-7-3), Sault Ste. Marie (7-16-4) and the Timmins North Stars (2-21-4).
The remaining NOHL series that wrapped up Wednesday would see the Soo Minor Peewee Greyhounds stave off another team with an upset on their minds, downing the Nickel City Minor Peewee Sons 4-1 in game five in the Lock City.
Despite finishing 40 points behind the Hounds in the standings, the Sons forced the Greyhounds to the brink, picking up a pair of wins in Walden last weekend. The Greyhounds wasted little time setting the tone last night, jumping out to a 3-0 first period lead on goals from Griffen Albert, Brendan Cooke and Drew Allison.
Corey Lacroix got the Sons on the board with just a second to play in period one, but that was it for scoring until Nathan Guizzetti found the open net with 2:02 to play, sealing the victory for the Sault and setting up another Trappers-Greyhounds final.
In Major Peewee action, the Nickel City Sons will begin their quest to reach an All-Ontario Championship, hosting the North Bay Trappers in games one and two of their best of five affair this weekend.
The opener is set for 3 p.m. Saturday in Chelmsford, with game two scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday at the Carmichael Arena.