Blame Colin McDougall for ruining the dream scenario of a Niagara Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League Golden Horseshoe Conference final.
His goal with 1:24 left in regulation Friday night at Hamilton was the game-winning goal as the Kilty B’s took down the Fort Erie Meteors in a tight seven-game semifinal.
Justin Monteith completed the scoring in the 3-1 victory with an empty net a minute later as the top-seeded Kilty B’s advanced to face the No. 2 seeded St. Catharines Falcons.
Hamilton’s Nolan Underwood and Fort Erie’s Joshua DiFrancesco, on the power play, traded second-period goals to open the scoring.
The Bs outscored their visitors 37-18 and were held scoreless on three chances with a power play. The Meteors were 1-2 on the power play.
While fourth-seeded Fort Erie was unlikely to upset Hamilton, the Meteors more than held their own in a series in which the home side won every game.
“They’re a special group. They gave everything they had, from staff to fans to players and alumni,” Meteors general manager head coach Nik Passero said. gave all they had, their heart was in it fully.
“I feel bad for them, they didn’t get what they deserved.”
Although a lopsided loss in Game 7 could have eased the sting of a long off-season storyline, Passero preferred to fight the Kilty Bs until the dying seconds of the deciding game.
“I think just having the pride of giving your all and being in the game for the whole game is much better,” he said. “Some guys never get that opportunity.
“For our players to be able to play Game 7 in front of 800 fans, probably 500 Fort Erie fans, is pretty special.”
With only forwards Michael Angrilli, Brendan Krawczyk and goaltender Duncan Nichols-Delay ineligible to return, the Meteors have plenty to build on heading into the 2022-23 Junior B season.
“We have a good core coming back. Obviously throughout the summer we’ll see who stays and who goes, but we have a great core of leadership coming back and a great core of hockey players,” Passero said. “We are back to work on Monday, starting to rebuild for next year. Camp Prospect is in two weeks and we are ready to go.
Nichols-Delay held opponents to 1.92 games per game and compiled a .932 save percentage in 11 playoff games, but his value to the team wasn’t limited to his work between the posts during his final season of junior eligibility. He was also instrumental as a mentor in backing up Josh Smith.
“That’s the one big thing when I talk to colleges about Dunc is how he took Josh Smith under his wing. They’re best friends, they hang out every day, go to the gym together,” Passero said. “Josh Smith is a starter in this league, he just got put behind an absolute rock star.
“I think Josh can take the ball and run with him next year.”
The days when the Fort Erie Meteors were an afterthought in Junior B hockey, if considered a destination for players, are a thing of the past if Passero has anything to say about that.
“I anticipate this is just the beginning. I’m not interested in being a bottom dweller,” he said. “I think our staff and alumni have spent too much time and efforts to ensure that this does not happen again.”
In Round 1, the Meteors took a cue from the Niagara Falls Canucks on how to get the Kilty Bs out of their game plan. Passero suggested the St. Catharines Falcons should be able to do the same after his team’s tight seven-game series against Hamilton.
“Hamilton is stoned. I think we bumped them a bit,” he said. “I think we obviously did some things to really slow them down.
“I will salute Andrew MacLean and St. Catharines.”
Like Nichols-Delay, his overage colleague, MacLean supported his team in all of its playoff games. MacLean has three shutouts, a 1.38 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage in eight playoff games for the Falcons.
Game 1 of the Conference Finals will be played Monday night at Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena in Hamilton.