Looking to unseat the defending Jilek Tournament champion, the Pioneers entered Thursday night’s contest with confidence after beating the Greenhills/AA Gabriel Richard Unified team by a 4-3 margin in mid-December. The Pioneers’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit fell short in a 4-2 loss.
Perhaps owing to the extended Christmas break, both teams started the contest a bit sluggish as they probed for an advantage during the first period. Neither was able to break through their opponent’s tight defense as the team’s deadlocked 0-0 through one period of play.
Early in the second period, the Irish came to life first and scored two lightning quick goals that came less than 50 seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead. Another score at the 7:01 mark made it a 3-0 game as the Irish temporarily looked to be firmly in control of the game.
But a series of uncharacteristic penalties left the Irish down two men. Pioneer wasted no time in capitalizing on the opportunity and put two goals on the board less than 30 seconds apart to pull within one. Pioneer’s first power-play goal came on a Jack Miling blast from the point that cleanly beat the goalie. Moments later, Gaiden Heatley sniped a wrist shot in the upper corner and the Pioneers seemed to swing the momentum back in their favor.
As the game ground through the third period, both teams settled back into a defensive struggle with neither able to mount sustained pressure in the offensive end. With under a minute to play, Pioneer pulled Patrick Newton from net to get an extra attacker, but the Irish came up with a bouncing puck and sent it into the empty net to seal the win and head to the championship round against Ann Arbor Skyline.
Shots were even at 19 apiece and both teams were whistled for three minor penalties.