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Hayes and Cranley Help Lead Firebirds to 7-4 Win, 6-Game Winning Streak

Erie, Penn. – The Firebirds came out on top after a high-scoring battle with the Otters in Pennsylvania on Saturday. Gavin Hayes netted three and earned an assist to lead the offense for Flint, followed by a three-point performance (2 G, 1 A) from Coulson Pitre. Nathan Day once again was named the starter in goal for Flint, making 14 saves before trading places with Will Cranley 8:36 into the second period. Cranley turned aside all 21 shots faced. Jacob Gibbons made the third start and fifth appearance of his OHL career between the pipes for the Otters and posted 14 saves before also leaving the tilt in the second period. Nolan Lalonde came in on a relief effort and made four saves on five shots.

The Birds were first to find twine just beyond the three-minute mark of the opening frame. A forced turnover in the neutral zone sprung Coulson Pitre free from the right point in. As he approached the hash marks he lifted a wrist shot over Gibbons’ glove for his 23rd of the season. Tristan Bertucci made the initial play that resulted in an assist.

Then the Otters tied it up at 6:58 at even strength when Colby Saganiuk fired one on net from the right-wing half-boards. The initial save was made but Sam Alfano was on the doorstep to tap the rebound under Day. The goal was Alfano’s third in three days and 16th of the season, with assists from Saganiuk and Owain Johnston.

Flint went back on top by a goal when a shot from just inside the blue line bounced around in traffic and went six feet up into the air. Gavin Hayes took a swing and knocked it past Gibbons. Initially, the goal was waived off the near official, who stated the puck was kicked in. After a review, the call on the ice was overturned and Gavin Hayes was awarded his 32nd of the campaign at 9:48, unassisted.

It took 48 seconds for Hayes to net his second, this time off a one-timer low in the left circle. Gibbons was focused on Dmitry Kuzmin with the puck in the center of the right circle, but the defender fed his forward Hayes across the zone for the low one-timer behind Erie’s netminder. Amadeus Lombardi was credited with the second helper.

Minutes later the Otters celebrated a goal but it was overturned as Nathan Day’s mask came off on the initial shot, ending the play before the second shot was taken. They did record their second marker of the night at 17:18, however. Malcolm Spence made a neutral-zone pass to Ondrej Molnar at the left side of the offensive blue line. He carried in on a two-on-one with Carey Terrance to his right. Flint’s lone defender dove in front of Molnar, who hit the brakes and ripped a pass to Terrance for the back-door one-timer. Terrance’s 28th of the campaign was the final goal of the first period, leaving the visiting Firebirds on top 3-2.

First-period shots ended at 12-11 with Erie on top by one. The Otters also outdrew the Birds 15-12. Neither team converted on the power play, with Flint getting two chances and Erie having one.

The Otters put pressure on the Birds through the first half of the middle frame, but the Firebirds extended their lead to a pair at 7:52. Riley Piercey gained the zone on the left wing with Amadeus Lombardi sprinting up the right side. Piercey hit the brakes and fired a pass to Lombardi, who kicked the puck from skate to stick, hit the brakes to shake his defender, then toe-dragged to the right and snuck the puck around Gibbons’ left skate for his team-leading 42nd, assisted by Piercey and Hayes.

Erie answered right back with back-to-back tallies 30 seconds apart. First Alex Messier shot, grabbed his own rebound, then scored for his third career goal at 8:06. Dylan Edwards picked up the assist. Then Alfano potted his second of the night on a delayed call against the Firebirds. With Gibbons on the bench for the extra skater, Liam Gilmartin snuck a pass between two defenders and it left Alfano all alone in the slot with the puck. He faked a shot to his right and shot low to the left, lighting the lamp off assists from Gilmartin and Artyom Kulakov. Will Cranley relieved Day of goaltending duties after the two quick strikes by the home team.

Later in the second while Erie was on a power play, Zacharie Giroux stole a mishandled puck by an Erie defender and was off to the races ahead of the defense. He chose low glove-side and struck paydirt for his third shortie of the year at 14:06. Nolan Lalonde replaced Gibbons between the pipes for the balance of the campaign.

At 16:05 a pass between two Erie defenders went directly to Coulson Pitre between the top of the circles. He took a couple of strides between the hash marks before writing the puck past Lalonde for his 24th, giving Flint a 6-4 advantage heading into the second intermission. The goal was Pitre’s 100th career OHL point.

Erie outshot the Firebirds again, this time 16-10. They also won 13 of 22 faceoffs versus Flint in the second period. The Otters were scoreless on the lone power play of period two.

The clubs traded another pair of power plays, but then the Birds were called on a second minor with an 18-second overlap. Flint’s penalty killer got the job done, led by Simon Slavicek who blocked a pair of slapshots from getting to Cranley.

Late in the frame, the Otters pulled Lalonde for the sixth skater. Seconds later the Birds were called for a penalty, giving Erie a six-on-four manpower advantage for the majority of the time remaining. Cranley came up big with a couple of key saves down the stretch before Hayes launched a puck from between his defensive circles with only 17 seconds to play. His third goal cemented the 7-4 triumph for the visitors, and Coulson Pitre earned the assist.

Final shots ended at 39-26 in Erie’s favor, and faceoffs swung back in Flint’s direction 38-33. The Otters finished scoreless on four power-play chances and the Birds came up empty on two tries.

Next Up: Following tonight’s match in Erie, the Birds will travel to Oshawa for a Sunday evening tilt with the Generals. Jack Sznewajs will call the play-by-play action on the Firebirds Hockey Network (FHN). Pregame coverage will begin 15 minutes before puck drop at 5:45 p.m. (ET) live on the radio throughout Flint & Mid-Michigan on US 103.1 FM, online at www.us103.com, or by downloading the US 103 app here. One more road game is scheduled for Wednesday in Owen Sound before returning for their next home game on Friday, March 17. Puck drop for the St. Patrick’s Day game is set for 7:00 p.m. (ET) at the Dort Financial Center, and tickets are available now from ETIX.COM HERE.

Story: Brandon Mills / flintfirebirds.com

For more information, contact:

Jack Sznewajs
Director of Broadcasting & Communications
Flint Firebirds Hockey Club
jack@flintfirebirds.com

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