Flint, Mich. – In what has been referred to as one of the best, most fast-paced hockey games this season, the Firebirds outshot the visiting Ottawa 67’s and controlled the faceoff circle all night, but were unable to solve the OHL’s second-best goaltender and dropped a 4 – 2 decision Saturday.
For Flint, Evgeniy Oksentyuk and Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) scored the goals. Jake Durham extended his point-streak to five games (2G, 4A) with an assist in the contest. Anthony Popovich made 29 saves on 32 shots between the pipes. For Ottawa, Joseph Gareffa recorded a hat-trick and Cedrick Andree stopped 37 of Flint’s 39 shots for the victory.
Ottawa netted the lone goal of the first period with 13.6 seconds remaining in the frame. Joseph Gareffa broke free at the offensive blue line and launched a wrister from the inner edge of the right circle. The puck deflected off a Firebirds’ defenseman and past Popovich’s blocker for his eighth of the season, assisted by Marco Rossi.
Flint outshot the 67’s 15 – 12 in the opening 20 minutes, and won the majority of the faceoffs 11 – 5.
Evgeniy Oksentyuk lit the lamp to tie the contest at 8:14 of period two during four-on-four play. Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes) joined the attack from the right point, carrying the puck to the half-boards. He made the centering pass to the slot, where Oksentyuk one-timed the puck past Andree for his team-leading 11th of the season. Busby and Jake Durham combined for the helpers.
Second-period shots favored the visitors 14 – 13, leaving Flint with the slight 40-minute edge of 28 – 26. In the faceoff circle, the ‘Birds continued their winning pace with a 13 – 3 advantage in the second period and a two-period upper-hand of 24 – 8.
Ottawa scored two quick goals to start the third period. First, Kevin Bahl (Arizona Coyotes) scored his third of season at 4:16. He cycled around the right-wing circle with the puck and sniped a quick shot over Popovich’s right shoulder. Gareffa was credited with the solo assist. Next, Gareffa netted his second of the night at 6:56. Noel Hoefenmayer made a slick between-the-legs move around a Flint defender and then backhanded a short-range pass to Gareffa in the slot for the one-timer.
Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) cut the deficit to one with his fifth of the campaign at 13:12. Connor Roberts made the set-up pass from the left-wing half-boards as Kolyachonok jumped in on the play. The Belarusian defender skated between the circles and lifted a backhand shot over Andree’s left pad.
With just under three minutes left to play, the Firebirds called Popovich to the bench for the extra attacker. Flint had possession in the offensive zone, but a Firebirds’ shot from the right point resulted in a broken stick and an empty net goal for Gareffa’s third of the night to complete the hat trick. It was his tenth of the season recorded at 17:30, unassisted.
Flint pulled Popovich one more time in the final minute, but to no avail. Ottawa held on for the 4 – 2 victory. Final shots-on-goal were 39 – 33 in Flint’s favor. Faceoffs also favored the ‘Birds 34 – 18.
Next up for Flint, the Firebirds will travel to Sarnia Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tilt against the Sting. The game will be televised live in Sarnia on channel 6 / 700 (HD) for Cogeco TV cable subscribers and can be heard live on the radio throughout Flint & Mid-Michigan on US 103.1 FM.
Photo Credit: Todd Boone & Emma Phillips / Flint Firebirds
For more information:
Director of Broadcasting & Communications
Flint Firebirds Hockey Club