CORNER BROOK John Denver sang of finding a key for every door in his early-70s classic “Rocky Mountain High.”
They’ll be soaring high in Rocky Harbour tonight, if the Gros Morne Academy Panthers can manage to unlock the final door standing between them and the West Coast High School Hockey League championship.
With a stunning 3-2 victory over the Corner Brook Regional High Titans at the Kinsmen Arena II on Wednesday night, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three league championship series.
Nathan Ellsworth was the offensive catalyst all night, recording a hat trick for Gros Morne in the win.
Dan Whitten and Matt Colbourne replied for the Titans.
Jonah Reid earned the victory between the pipes, with Luke House suffering the defeat.
Ellsworth conceded he was as surprised as anyone the Panthers managed to grab the series lead right away on the road.
“We thought we might lose here, win Game 2 and then go to Game 3,” he said. “But we managed to pull off a bit of an upset here.”
He thought the Panthers played well, both offensively and defensively, and basically outplayed the Titans in every aspect of the game.
But he saved the most praise for Reid.
“Our goalie stood on his head,” said Ellsworth.
He got the scoring started at 7:31 of the opening period, on the power play, from Luke Parsons and Ben Murphy.
With 3:11 remaining in the first, Ellsworth struck again, this time unassisted, to increase the lead to 2-0.
Feeling the game quickly getting away from them, the Titans pushed to get on the board before the end of the period and were successful with 2:15 to go, with Colbourne burying one from Mike Lundrigan and Scott Delaney.
Early in the second period, the Titans appeared to tilt the table back in their favour, with Whitten tying the game on the power play at 10:20. Devon Fitzpatrick and Colbourne drew the assists.
The Panthers stood their ground against the momentum swing, however, and made it to the second intermission tied.
Then, just under three minutes into the final frame, Ellsworth eluded the Titans defenders again, putting the finishing touches on his hat trick at 12:08. Murphy and Parsons picked up the helpers on the play.
Try as they might, the Titans were unable to even the score again before the final buzzer sounded.
According to Ellsworth, the two-goal first period was a huge confident boost to the Panthers, even though they eventually lost that lead.
“It was really big,” he said. “We usually get down in the first period every time and then jump back into it in the third, so it was big to get off to a good start.”
That, again, will be a key worth finding tonight at the Gros Morne Arena.
“We’ve got to come out and score first again,” Ellsworth said. “Usually our home games are our best games, so ....”
The Titans, meanwhile, were near disbelief they let the opening game slip by them. Christian Hobbs pointed the finger directly at how they fell behind in the first.
“We started slow, that’s definitely not our game,” he said. “We managed to play a little better by the third period, but got a few unlucky chances ... that’s how the game goes.”
Of course, once the Titans tied the score 2-2, it appeared it was just a matter of time before they took the game over. It didn’t happen.
“It definitely looked better for us,” Hobbs said. “When you score like that, it helps get the spirits up and the fire going to try to come back, but unfortunately it just never worked out the way we wanted it to.”
This wasn’t a case of Corner Brook underestimating the Panthers, at least not in Hobbs’ mind. He expected it to be a close game based on how the Panthers played all season.
“Obviously, beating Deer Lake in the semifinals, they proved they were showing up to play,” he said. “And they obviously showed they wanted this win more than we did.”
Like the Panthers, the Titans will focus on a faster start in Game 2 tonight. If they can get a quick lead, Hobbs feels the chances of returning to the Kinsmen Arena II next Monday for Game 3 will increase drastically.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Hopefully this game gives us a bit of inspiration to do what we have to do to bring it to Game 3.”
Tonight’s game is slated for 7 p.m. at the Gros Morne Arena.