Written By: Bill Potrecz
Josh Smith did his parents proud Friday night.
With mom Laurie and dad Brinsley just in from Prince Edward Island for the game, the 19-year-old netminder once again shone brightly for the Fort Erie Meteors.
Smith kicked out 29 shots as the Meteors edged the Niagara Falls Canucks 2-1 to take the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, best-of-seven quarter final series 4-2.
The Meteors now advance to the semifinals versus the Hamilton Kilty B’s with Game 1 in Hamilton Thursday, March 16.
Smith joined the Meteors last season and said Friday’s game was the first time his parents have been able to see him play for Fort Erie.
“It was awesome,” he said. “They haven’t seen me play in a pretty long time, almost two years. It was really nice to have them here. I’m really excited to see them after the game.”
Smith, who had a solid regular season sharing the net with rookie Nolan Lane, has taken his game to the next level in the playoffs with three shutouts in the series to go along with a 1.16 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.
“I’ve always prided myself in being a playoff guy and stepping it up when it means the most,” Smith said. “Our defence have done an amazing job. They have helped me out so much.
“We came in here and wanted to get it done tonight. We did not want to come back for Game 7. We’re the better team, we’re a deep team, so we were confident.”
Fort Erie coach Nik Passero was in awe of Smith’s performance.
“What can you say about Smitty? Another one-goal game,” Passero said. “The kid just stood on his head. He made every big save, every good clear. He’s been through a lot as the back-up last year watching what (former goalie) Duncan (Nichols-Delay) did and he comes in and doubles them up.”
The Meteors, playing without leading scorer Joe Macchione, who was serving the first game of his four-game suspension for a match penalty, managed to put a tough 3-2 loss in Game 5 in the rear view mirror and get the job done.
“Just men being men,” Passero said. “I could tell in our pre-game talk. It was the most focused we’ve been. They knew what they had to do. They knew they let a chance go Wednesday to win it in front of our home crowd. They knew they messed up and they came to play today.”
The Canucks took a quick 1-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game when Liam Gorman scored.
“We went down 1-0 and it never changed. We just kept our foot on the gas and here we are,” Passero said.
Fort Erie got on the board at the 12:27 mark of the second when Marcus Regina whipped a shot high over the glove of Niagara Falls goaltender Avery Alves to tie the game.
Dominic DiFrancesco netted the winner 1:47 into the third on a wrist shot from the slot.
The Meteors finished 23 points head of the Canucks in the regular season standings but Niagara Falls gave them all they could handle.
“Winning in this league is not easy,” Passero said. “Niagara Falls showed any team in this league can give you a go. They put us to the depths of hell. We were at the bottom of our lineup with six, seven guys out and we found a way to get it done.”
The Meteors will take the weekend off before getting back to work in preparation for the Kilty B’s.
“Back to the drawing board Monday. We’ve got get this out of our system. The guys deserve to enjoy it, the coaches deserve to enjoy it. They’re exhausted too,” Passero said.
Smith can’t wait for the next round.
“It feels amazing, but this is just the first step though,” he said. “We had to get through a good team in Niagara Falls and now we want Hamilton in the next round.”
Meteors 2 Canucks 1
Fort Erie goaltender Josh Smith with 29 saves.
Fort Erie Meteors: Marcus Regina (1); Dominic Di Francesco (1).
Niagara Falls Canucks: Liam Gorman (1).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Fort Erie on Avery Alves (36), by Niagara Falls on Josh Smith (30); Power plays: Fort Erie 0/1, Niagara Falls 0/0; Penalty minutes: Fort Erie 2, Niagara Falls 4.
Next up: Fort Erie visit Hamilton Thursday, March 16 for Game 1 of the best-of-seven semifinals. The Caledonia Corvairs take on the St. Catharines Falcons in the other semifinal which is tentatively slated to start Friday, March 17 in St. Catharines.
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