Angola, Indiana - The 2019 Little Caesars playoffs are underway and the 07 Lapeer Storm traveled to Indiana on Sunday morning to take on the Fort Wayne Force in their opening round. With Fort Wayne as an early favorite to win the divisional playoff, the Storm knew it would take a solid effort, especially considering they would be playing with an extremely short-bench due to illness and injury.
In the first period both teams came out swinging with ample scoring opportunities on both ends of the ice. With just over 7:00 remaining in the period, #19 Brennan Bernard scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone and slid it to #5 Jordan Davis who then danced around the Fort Wayne defenseman and beat the goaltender top-shelf to make it 1-0 Storm. Less than 3 minutes later, Bernard again found Davis just inside the Force zone, and threaded a pass between two defenders to send Davis in all alone. #5 made easy work of it from there with a nifty move on the Force goaltender and put his team up 2-0.
In the second period, the Force gained some momentum back from the previous period and capitalized on a Storm turnover in the neutral zone, that led to a 2-on-1 and ultimately their first goal of the contest. Neither team was able to put the puck in the net for the remainder of the second and the two teams entered the third and final period with the Storm leading 2-1.
In the finale, the Storm dominated the early going with multiple scoring opportunities, but could not seem to get it past the Fort Wayne goalie. Following a very questionable penalty on #12 Cade Doud for hooking, the Force went on the power-play and with 25 seconds left on the penalty, picked up a loose puck in the Storm slot and fired it past #35 Josh Eager to knot things up at 2. On the road in their first playoff game, it appeared that the Storm may be loosing it's grip on the game they had controlled throughout, but following another successful penalty kill, Bernard and Davis again linked up in front of the Fort Wayne net-minder, and Davis completed his hat-trick with a high backhand over the out-stretched glove to make it 3-2, and put the Storm back in front for good.
The customary hard-hats were awarded to #35 Josh Eager for steering aside 21/23 shot faced, and making some key saves down the stretch to preserve the win, and #19 Brennan Bernard who tallied 3-assists on the afternoon, and maintained consistent puck control and face-off control throughout the contest.
Coach Bernard had this to say after the Storm victory "I was a bit nervous coming down here to start the playoffs today because of our bench situation. We have a number of kids out with illness/injury and literally a handful of kids just coming back today from illness (not at 100%). We knew going in that Fort Wayne would be a tough challenge, as they have played in a division above us all season long and were dropped to our division for the playoffs. All in all, I think these boys put forth a great effort. We have kids like #88 Dylan Callan (normally a goalie) stepping up and playing left-wing for us, #14 Zaveiro Politowicz playing center and having never played there before, he was trying to make adjustments all game long. Which is not easy at this age, Then you have some of our leaders that are truly becoming just that this season....leaders. Davis, Hall, Hoffman, Grote, Stull, Whited, Bernard....I could literally go on and on. These kids are starting to truly believe in their abilities and great things are happening for us, Just need to stay focused and keep our eyes on achieving our goals." When asked if he could pin-point one major factor in his teams most recent success, Bernard added "I think without question its our defensive play. Coach Whited has made some significant improvements on our back-end and these kids have completely bought-in to the schemes we are running. That's not to discount what our forwards or goaltenders have been doing by any stretch, but the improvement in play by our defensive unit is certainly something to be appreciated and acknowledged."
The Lapeer Storm will get back into action on Friday night in Lapeer, as they take on the Bay County Blizzard in game one of the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association District 5 Tournament.