Story courtesy Paul Horn/New Westminster Salmonbellies; photo courtesy Shelley Fey/New Westminster Salmonbellies.
Not so fast. That was the message from the Salmonbellies to everyone who thought the WLA Finals were all but finished. For the fourth time in six games, it was the visiting team taking the victory, but only the second time that the score differential exceeded two goals.
Throughout the series, the Bellies have allowed Langley to get the early jump in the scoring, but not tonight. The Thunder certainly came out with guns ablazing. In the first five minutes, they found their way behind the Bellies defence on a number of occasions, but they couldn't solve Zach Higgins. Higgins made 13 saves in the frame (and the posts made two more) and that allowed the Bellies' shooters to get the edge. Kevin Crowley started things at 5:30 off with a shot that came as he rolled off his defender. 100 seconds later, Keegan Bal scored from distance, placing a shot right behind Frank Scigliano's left heel. But the Bellies third goal was the most memorable, getting the crowd to their feet. After a big save by Higgins, Brandon Goodwin scooped the loose ball and sent a pass to a breaking Ryan Martel. Martel was being chased by Connor Robinson, but caught the ball cleanly and gained speed. He was forced to shoot from the wrong side of the floor, but he made no mistake, hitting the net off Scigliano's right hip. That goal would end the scoring for the first period. The Belies had kept Langley off the board for the entire frame, returning the favour after Langley managed to do so in Period 3 of Game 5.
The second period started with another Bellies marker. 54 seconds in, Crowley went to the net without the ball, where he was fed by Will Malcom. Crowley held the ball for 4 steps until he was deep to Scigliano's left, but he used every inch of his reach to extend over the Langley tender and put the ball in the top right corner. The Bellies were up 4-0.
At 2:24, the Thunder finally got on the board. Curtis Dickson shot a precision subshot through traffic to beat Higgins. Back and forth we went for about 5 more minutes, each team looking for an opportunity. It came at about the 7 minute mark as Dane Dobbie broke from the bench and received a breakaway pass from Bobby Kidd III. The Thunder had pulled within two, but soon found themselves in penalty trouble on a very obvious too-many-men call. The crowd was up-in-arms as the Thunder smartly kept the sixth man on the floor during the delayed penalty, but it wouldn't matter. Haiden Dickson found the net just 30 seconds into the powerplay and the Bellies were again up by three. Langley kept up the pressure, scoring two more by sending right-handers to the net without the ball. Their 3rd goal came after Clay Scanlan fed his brother Chase who was open on the low right, and their 4th came as Curtis Dickson sent a behind-the-back pass to a charging Robert Church in the same position. The period ended with New West still in the lead, but Langley had tightened the margin to one.
The Bellies needed some momentum to start the third and they got it from Keegan Bal who again beat Scigliano to the low left. Church sunk a crossbody shot 3 minutes later to answer for Langley, picking the top right corner on Higgins. But New West wasn't deterred, answering with two more of their own. The first was from Will Malcom who took a pass in tight quarters and jumped up to beat the Langley goalie. Then, a minute and a half later, Ryan Martel took a pass while running at full tilt, again beating Scigliano on the short side. The Bellies were up 8-5 late, so Langley pulled their goaltender. With the extra attacker, Robinson tangled up the Bellies defender and gave Dobbie a clear path to goal, where he deked Higgins for Langley's last goal of the night. As the seconds drew down, the Bellies kept up their pressure on every Langley clearing attempt. With 90 seconds remaining, a running Scigliano sent a pass to Curtis Dickson, but Dickson was hit by Drew Belgrave and couldn't hang on. Belgrave went on to put the loose ball into an empty Langley net, securing the 9-6 victory.
The Three Stars were Zach Higgins (1st, 88.5 Save Average, 46 saves on 52 shots), Mitch Jones (2nd with 4 assists) and Curtis Dickson (3rd, 1-3-4).
Langley's other scorers for the night were Church and Dobbie (each with 2-1-3) and Chase Scanlan (with 1 goal). Clay Scanlan, Kidd III and Dylan Kinnear each had an assist. Scigliano made 32 saves on 41 shots for a 78% average. Langley is averaging 9.4 goals per playoff game in 2023. Their powerplay is functioning at 29% and they're killing 59% of the penalties they've taken.
Salmonbellies' scorers included Bal (2-2-4), Crowley (2-1-3), Martel (2-0-2 ), and Will Malcom (1-1-2). Belgrave and Haiden Dickson each added a single, and helpers came from Brandon Goodwin, Jason Jones (each with two), and Quinn Mackay with one. The Bellies are averaging 9.4 goals per game in the 2023 playoffs and their powerplay is working at 36% efficiency. They've managed to kill 66% of their man-short situations.
Tonight's game was an intense battle and it included a frightening moment for Langley fans as Curtis Dickson stayed down for an extended time, favouring his knee. The knee appeared to be dislocated, but Dickson soon returned to the floor. There were many hard hits and extra knocks, but the referees largely put away their whistles, especially in the late going.
Game 7 will be held Tuesday August 29th at Queens Park Arena and tickets are already going fast. Fans can buy them at the Queens Park Box Office during weekday business hours or an hour before the game. Tickets are also available on-line right here.