By Bernie Puchalski (BPSN)
The Fort Erie Meteors are on the cusp of something special.
The Meteors defeated the visiting Hamilton Kilty B’s 2-1 Wednesday night at the Fort Erie Leisureplex to even their Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Golden Horseshoe Conference best-of-seven semifinal playoff series at 3-3. A win Friday night in Hamilton over the first-place Kilty B’s would advance the Meteors to their first league championship series in three decades. Waiting for the winner of the series is the St. Catharines Falcons.
“This team is pretty special,” understated Fort Erie coach Nik Passero. “There is a lot of special kids in there and they are not scared of anyone, any moment or any thing. I have never won a thing in my life and maybe I didn’t have the heart that these kids have.”
Passero credited the play of his goalie, Duncan Nichols-Delay, for the victory, but Wednesday’s win was a total team effort. Nichols-Delay had to be good but not excellent as the Meteors didn’t give up many chances and frustrated the Kilty B’s by keeping them to the outside and giving them little room to make plays.
“Once again, Nichols-Delay stood on his head but I thought we had the better chances,” Passero said. “He made the stops when he had to and he is incredible.”
He feels the Meteors’ depth is paying dividends in the series.
“We are deep and we laid the bricks to them.”
It is obvious how the fourth-place Meteors are giving Hamilton all it can handle.
“We’re fast. I don’t think there has been a team this fast since the Thorold Blackhawks back when Chris Risi played,” Passero said. “We fly around, we pester you, we are good on pucks and face-offs, we get the puck out and we bury our chances. Those were two NHL goals we scored tonight.”
The Meteors now have to figure out a way to win on the road. Both teams have won all three of their home games.
“We have to get to work on some things because obviously they are really good there,” Passero said. “It’s not that we aren’t good but they are very good. We have some work to do in the next 24 hours to figure it out. We will get on the bus Friday and get going.”
Nichols-Delay, a 20-year-old Calgary native, loves how the team in front of him has continued to roll along like the team bus.
“We had some adversity throughout the year,” he said. “There were a couple of times where we had slides but we were resilient the whole year, battled and got better every day.”
The six foot, 176-pound goalie and his teammates believed they had a chance to take out Hamilton since Day 1 of the playoffs.
“We knew we were going to come in here after beating Welland. Once they were on our radar, we had to get to work and bear down.”
They have been able to get that work done, especially at the Fort Erie Leisureplex.
“The rink here has huge advantages for us and we practise on it all year. We work hard every day and get it done,” Nichols-Delay said.
He didn’t need to work as hard as he usually does Wednesday, thanks to the effort of his teammates on front of him.
“The D was battling in front of me all night and props to them for always sticking to it, blocking shots and getting their sticks in the way.”
Nichols-Delay is relishing every moment of the Meteors’ playoff run as his junior career winds down.
‘It has been a lot of fun,” he said. “In the back of my mind I know every (deciding) game could be my last game but I don’t worry about it too much. I take it day by day.”
Fort Erie’s Joseph Macchione with a goal and an assist.
Meteors 2 Kilty B’s 1
Fort Erie Meteors: Macchione (3), Jayden Baldinelli (5)
Hamilton Kilty B’s: Luke Johnston (1)
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Fort Erie on Braedyn McIntosh (20), by Hamilton on Duncan Nichols-Delay (23); Power plays: Fort Erie 0-2, Hamilton 0-2; Penalty minutes: Fort Erie 12, Hamilton 10.
Up next: Game 7 is Friday in Hamilton.