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Norsemen Sink Schooners; Advance to Second Round

by Matt MacInnis | May 21, 2013, 12:40 AM ET

For just the third time in the franchise’s history, the Vancouver Island Norsemen will play in the second round of the SICHL playoffs.

It took seven games plus some extra time, but in the end it was free agent signing Brian Gionta who was the hero in Victoria. Signed this off-season to improve the team’s penalty kill and provide secondary scoring, the move proved a valuable investment as Gionta scored the series-winning goal while short-handed in the first overtime.

The decisive match proved an unexpected affair. The Norsemen’s high-priced mega stars such as Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg and Ryan Getzlaf, Matt Moulson and Jamie Benn were all silent. In fact, Moulson was the only member of the top-six forwards to register on the scoresheet in regulation time, as he took an uncharacteristic penalty. Moulson had not taken a single penalty in his previous 66 games with the Norsemen.

Defensive defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, acquired last season in the Nik Lidstrom trade, opened the scoring at 5:46 of the first period, assisted by Alexander Edler and fourth line centre Daymond Langkow. The Schooners responded in the second with a goal from former Norsemen Drew Stafford. The third period saw neither team light the red lamp before they went into overtime.  In overtime, Ryan Getzlaf, who has had a horrendous season, took a holding penalty. With the faceoff deep in their own zone, rookie Shawn Matthias won a critical faceoff back to Chris Phillips, who cleared it high and off the glass into the neutral zone. Gionta won a battle for the puck and fired a wrist shot low blocker side past Fleury to send Victoria into pandemonium.

“There’s so much that can be said about this series,” acknowledged GM MacInnis. “It was every bit as hard fought as I expected it would be, and I think our team learned a lot about ourselves this series. I’m just relieved that my gamble to play Macdonald in game six didn’t entirely come back to bite me or I might be looking for a new job right now.”

For the most part, the players expected to play significant roles during the series for the Norsemen did. Crosby led the team in points, Moulson led it in goals, Edler was a two-way monster on the blueline and Jonathan Quick was every bit as spectacular as he needed to be. But Mikhail Grabovski, who tallied 106 points during the regular season and a plus-48 rating, had just a single assist and was minus-2.

Quick’s performance during the seven game series was legendary. He appeared in five games, going 4-1 with a 0.89 GAA, .976 save percentage and a shutout.

The Norsemen could not decide what to do with the sixth defence spot, shuffling four different players through the roster spot. Ryan ellis ended up playing the final three games, ending with a goal and an assist.

Up next for the Norsemen is the Whitehorse Huskies, a team they played five times during the regular season, and who won the division title. The two teams played five one-goal games this season, with the Norsemen winning four of the five, although three came in overtime. It will be an interesting series. The Huskies had better top end scoring and defence during the season. The Norsemen showed better scoring depth among their forwards, and both teams goalies were amazing.

“I’m happy to see two of the smaller-market teams in the league excelling, and that at least one of us is going to move forward to take on one of the beasts of the Canadian Conference,” said MacInnis. “I sincerely hope the Falcons and Express dummy the hell out of one another.  We’ll see how things go in the second round for us. We’re going to make a few slight adjustments to our lineup, maybe get a little more experience on the ice for game one, and I think we should be competitive.”

Round two appears set to begin on Wednesday.

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