COCHRANE, Ont. – Jonas Leas’ second goal of the game, coming 6:35 into overtime, was the difference as the Cochrane Crunch defeated the Hearst Lumberjacks 5-4 Thursday evening, in a thrilling end-to-end affair at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Junior A Championship, in front of a near-capacity crowd at Tim Horton Events Centre.
These same two teams will meet again Friday in the DHC semifinal at 7:30 p.m., with the Crunch earning home team distinction and last change by virtue of finishing second overall in the round robin, with the win.
A free-wheeling opening 20 minutes in this all-NOJHL affair saw each side tally twice.
Hearst’s Dawson Waddell opened the scoring nine and a half minutes into the contest as he was sent in alone on Cochrane starter Bradley Dobson and slid a low shot into the bottom right corner.
Cochrane countered a couple shifts later during a man advantage opportunity.
After winning the draw, Brett Whitehead blasted one from the point that was redirected by Leas parked in front at 11:08.
Picking up a power play themselves right after that, the Lumberjacks regained the lead as Jake Desando finished off some crisp puck movement by the NOJHL champions from the slot.
Back and forth they went as the Crunch answered once more to level the proceedings, while skating four-on-four, as Austin Whelan buried a cross-crease feed from Ethan Emanuel at 17:36 past Tomi Gagnon in the Hearst goal.
Gagnon was making his first start since February 9, which was a 4-2 triumph over the French River Rapids, compliments of a note from NOJHL statistician and historian David Harrison.
Second period play saw the visitors go back in front for a third time when Justin Miron collected his first marker of the DHC as he took a George Young back pass, cut in and outwaited Dobson before slipping one between his legs at 8:27.
The home side replied yet again as Leas was the benefactor of a turnover deep in Hearst territory and fed Jacob Stos for a tap-in at 10:51.
Continuing to be a set-up man, Young added his second assist of the evening as he put one on the tape of Austin Heidt as the defenceman skated towards the net from the left side and buried one high to give the Lumberjacks the lead for a fourth time, 2:30 into the third.
The guests were given a chance to extend their cushion, while shorthanded, half way through the third period after a giveaway by the goalkeeper gave Garret Giertuga a glorious chance, but his shot rang off the cross bar and out.
Capitalizing with the man advantage later in the frame, the Crunch tied things up once more with Zach Hayes snapping one from the high slot that flew between the legs of Gagnon with just under six minutes remaining in regulation.
Cochrane pressed the pace early in OT, but were denied by a couple of quality pad saves by the Hearst goalkeeper.
As the extra session continued it was Leas who finally ended it as he drove the net, cut in front, and calmly tucked the game-winner past the outstretched pad of Gagnon.
Hayes finished with three points on the night, including an assist on the difference maker.
Shots on goal in the contest favoured Hearst by a 50-38 count.
Earning player of the game laurels for their respective sides were Stos and Gagnon.
The semifinal winner will then take on the Oakville Blades (OJHL) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup final with a berth to the Canadian National Jr. A Championship, May 11-19 in Brooks, Alta., on the line.
Both of these games will be streamed live and on demand via HockeyTV.com.
Photos by (see more at) OJHL IMAGES