Things just got a whole lot tougher for the Guelph Gryphons men's hockey team.
Despite a miraculous third period comeback that saw the Gryphs rebound from a 3-1 deficit to send the opening game of their playoff series with Lakehead to overtime, it was the Thunderwolves who came out on top as Andy Hyvarinen scored an unassisted goal just 2:01 into the extra frame.
Racing for a loose puck against Gryphons defenceman Tim Priamo, Hyvarinen came up with it as Priamo fell. The Thunderwolves winger streaked in from the right half-boards and beat Gryphons goaltender Scott Van Bommel high on the glove side to give Lakehead the series-opening victory in the teams' best-of-three OUA West semi-final.
The game itself was fast-paced from start to finish, with the Gryphons striking first when Pat Campbell banged in a rebound off a great rush from Matt Lyall, who was sharp all game for the Gryphons, along with linemates Alex Magera and JT MacDonald who got a rare start, but played well.
Lakehead stormed back in the second period, controlling most of the play and receiving goals from Dan Speer and Ryan MacDonald, sending the game to the third period with the Gryphons in unfamiliar territory: trailing.
As the final period began, it was Lakehead who struck first as Matt Caria beat Van Bommel on a well-placed shot that went between the legs of Campbell before slipping through the Gryphon goaltender's pads.
Desperately needing a spark, the Gryphons received it less than a minute later when Thunderwolves defenceman Ryan Baird took an interference penalty, sending Guelph to the powerplay. And on the man advantage, the Gryphons standout rookie trio of Thomas Kiriakou, Nathan Martine and Tim Priamo struck as Martine kept a loose puck in at the blueline, finding Kiriakou just outside the right face-off circle. Kiriakou faked a shot and then fired a cross-ice pass just outside the crease to Priamo who was streaking in from the blueline. The big Gryphon rearguard tipped home Kiriakou's pass to bring the Gryphons within one.
And exactly four minutes later, Kris Belan ripped home a shot from the slot to tie the game at three, sending both teams to overtime, with the Gryphons holding momentum and 'Wolves rookie goaltender Alex Dupuis looking shaken, and struggling with his rebound control.
Nevertheless, it was Lakehead's time to shine in the extra frame with Hyvarinen's game-winner. Priamo was visibly shaken after the play, feeling that he had been tripped by Hyvarinen, leading to the goal. Dupuis, despite playing just three games in the regular season, has taken the lion's share of playing time in the post-season and did just enough to keep the Gryphons at bay, stopping 27 shots for his third playoff win.
The series now shifts to Thunder Bay where the Gryphons will have to win the final two games at the Lakehead Thunderdome, a notoriously difficult place to play. While the Gryphs took two on the road in their quarter-final series with Laurier, the atmosphere in T-Bay will be far more hostile, clearly favouring the home side.