Barrie Colts, Mathias Niederberger nab Game 1 on London Knights’ ice: OHL post-game questions

Neate Sager

Barrie Colts fans are double-dog dared to bring "Niederberger: It's German for 'Michael Houser' " signs to Game 2 on Sunday. Mathias Niederberger was phantastisch with 42 saves, including grand larceny glove stops on Seth Griffith and Scott Harrington that preserved a one-goal lead, helping the Colts beat London in Game 1. It was the Knights' first home-ice loss in regulation time in nearly three months. On with the post-game questions:

Barrie 4 London 2, ENG (Barrie leads final 1-0, Game 2 Sunday at 7 p.m. at London) — What settled the Colts down in the third period, when London tying the game seemed like an inevitability? Those on the Barrie bandwagon for this series likely experienced déjà vu in the third period when the Knights made their patented late push. In a span of 1:40, the Colts took two penalties, with Alex Broadhurst scoring seven seconds into the first power play to pare Barrie's lead to 3-2. The second penalty with 9:31 left was on Aaron Ekblad, depriving the Colts of their star defenceman. Yet Barrie stiffened, killed the penalty and London didn't threatened as much over the final minutes before Mark Scheifele (1G-1A, +2) got the empty-netter.

"It's a game of momentum," Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk said. "When you have it you want to keep it as long as possible and when you don't have it you want to get it back. That big penalty kill in late in the third period got us back into it."

Niederberger might have been reasons one, two and three for Barrie winning. The Knights were not able to beat him from in tight, getting their goals on a Broadhurst one-timer and a Ryan Rupert breakaway.

"I think we did a great job keeping the shots to the outside," said Niederberger, whose pad save on Miles Liberati on a clear break late in the second kept Barrie ahead going into the third period. "That was our plan and I think we did that really well.

"There's good unity between the players and the goaltender," Hawerchuk added. "Bergey's the backbone for us."

The Colts got the greasy goals. Brendan Lemieux found a rebound for the eventual winner 1:24 into the third on a power play. A strong Scheifele-Alex Yuill-Anthony Camara cycle produced the go-ahead goal in the second period. Ex-Knight Andreas Athanasiou also tallied.

The Knights, conversely, pinged a couple posts behind Niederberger.

"I thought we played very well," Knights coach Dale Hunter said. "We were skating in the first, had lots of opportunities and just didn't bury on 'em. You judge a game by scoring chances and [how a team played] defensively and offensively. I thought we did a great job."

What was absent's from London's game that you usually see? Perhaps it was rust from being off for a week while the Colts and Belleville Bulls went the distance in the Eastern final. Or it was the hot goalie in Barrie's net. But London, contrary to what it's done so often, was not able to pounce after Rupert's opening goal 5:24 into the second. Athansiou tied it with a 4-on-4 goal 2:13 later off a semi-halfway broken play, taking the puck after Scott Harrington deflected a pass and waiting out Anthony Stolarz before scoring. The rapid response gave Barrie confidence.

Athanasiou seemed to be in high gear throughout the night, helping the Colts get some strong zone entries.

London seemed out of sorts once Camara put Barrie ahead for good with 4:39 left in the second. The Knights only trailed for all of 12 minutes in the Western final vs. Plymouth, prompting the question of whether they knew what to do once faced with deficit.

"We came from behind lots [at earlier stages of the season]," Hunter said. "It's part of hockey. That's how you have to win. You have to keep a lead and you have to come behind. We had our opportunities and the goalie made the saves.

"Sunday's a big game for us and it is a game we got to have," Hunter added. "But as long as the kids give the effort, that's all you ask."

How did missing 6-foot-3, 222-pound defenceman Jake Dotchin affect Barrie? The Colts got by without the Tampa Bay Lightning selection just fine for one night. Their utilityman, the 5-foot-8, 167-pound sophomore Yuill (2A, +1) ended up being selected the game's third star. Yuill, whose 18th birthday — hello convenient-to-narrative coincidence — will fall on the day of the Memorial Cup final, was also effective on the penalty kill. Yuill got outmuscled on one early second-period scramble around Niederberger, but it didn't bite Barrie.

"He's got some savvy to him and showed it on a couple goals tonight," Hawerchuk said.

The Colts' top four on the blueline during the regular season — Dotchin, Ekblad, Alex Lepkowski and Ryan O'Connor — have been intact for only two games during the post-season due to two suspensions. Ironically, Barrie lost each of those games, which points up to how the 17-year-olds Yuill and and Michael Webster and the 18-year-old Jonathan Laser have made during the playoffs.

"Whatever 20 guys are playing, we're trying to get everyone on the same page to where it's second nature for your club," Hawerchuk said. "This a series, not a game, we'll enjoy this for a minute, but we got to get our composure back and get focused for Game 2."

"Bergey gave us some great saves tonight, but we've got some work to do."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.