By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers laid their hearts out on the ice, but their comeback bid fell just short, as the St. Thomas Tommies came away with a 3-2 win and advanced to the semifinals.
With less than a minute remaining in the game, Emma Pye put away the controversial game-winner which ended the Panthers season.
The play in question was whether or not goaltender Camille Scherger covered the puck long enough to blow it dead. As Alex Wood shot it from the point, a St. Thomas forward fell in the crease and tripped Scherger, who appeared to have the puck covered for a short time before Pye poked it in.
"The referees said we pushed the girl into Schugs, but for me, it was more about the whistle. It seemed like the puck was under Camille for a while," said Panthers head coach Bruce Donaldson. "At the end of the day, they made the call, and we have to live with it."
The Panthers came out strong looking to advance in the postseason, but penalties hurt them in the opening period and snuffed any momentum they built.
UPEI's penalty kill unit stepped up big six and a half minutes into the first when they found themselves short two players after they were whistled for two penalties 30 seconds apart. Despite having the five-on-three advantage for a minute and a half, the Tommies were held to just two shots and struggled to generate quality looks on goal.
However, the Panthers could only hold them down for so long. On a power play at 16:12, St. Thomas' Lauren Legault put away the rebound of Mariah Carey's shot from the left circle. They would add to that lead on another power play goal 2:25 later when Carey fired a shot past Scherger from the left circle to make it 2-0.
After a scoreless second period, Donaldson decided to shake things up by separating the forwards on his most productive line and giving his lineup more balance.
"We just weren't getting anywhere," Donaldson said. "I just told the coaches, 'you know what, I have to split them up because right now they're just focusing on that line.'"
The bold move paid off quickly, as the Panthers came into the third period as the aggressors. Much of the play took place in the offensive zone, and they finally broke through at 2:11 when rookie forward Chiara Esposito backhanded a rebound past goaltender Caroline Pietroski.
About six minutes later, Taylor Gillis picked off a pass and made several moves in front of Pietroski before tucking the forehand inside the right post for the equalizer.
With all the momentum on their side, it looked like the Panthers would complete the comeback, but St. Thomas still had a say in the matter, as Pye delivered the final blow with her goal in front of the net.
After the game, Donaldson applauded his team's fight.
"It's a game at the end of the day, but they showed a lot of heart to dig out of that hole and give themselves a chance to win. I'm nothing but proud."
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan