Rams forward John Carpino passes the puck up the ice at the beginning of the third period. Photo by Anders Marshall

The Rams men’s hockey team won its opening playoff game against the Western Mustangs on home ice Wednesday night.

In front of a small crowd of about 120 people at Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Rams used a hard-fought third period to defeat the Mustangs 4-2 in the first game of a best of three series.

A penalty to Mustangs captain Jonathan Laser did nothing to ignite the Rams’ offence early in the game. The Rams registered just one shot on target during their first power play of the game.

The game sparked to life after both teams were denied great chances with back to back saves at either end of the ice, within seconds of each other and with less than two minutes left in the first.

The Rams appeared to dominate the period, taking the shot count into consideration, with 12 from Ryerson and just three from Western. However, the quantity of shots didn’t match the quality, as the Rams weren’t able to convert their chances into goals heading into the second period.

Four minutes into the second, Alex Basso rang a shot off of the Mustang’s left post. A frantic two minutes of guns-blazing offence from both sides ensued.

The Rams spent the better part of an entire two-minute shift (long in hockey even at pro level) in the Mustangs’ zone at even strength. The Rams racked up eight more shots before a TV timeout with seven minutes remaining.

A penalty to Mustangs centre Ray Huether gave Rams Aaron Armstrong the chance to rifle home a shot from close range to make it 1-0 with just over three minutes remaining in the second.

Minutes later, Mustangs centre Mitchell Fitzmorris barged into Rams goaltender, Taylor Dupuis, forcing him to leave the ice momentarily to recover. Backup Rams goaltender Brodie Barrick kept Dupuis’ spot warm for one shift before the Rams’ starter re-took the ice. Despite his protests, Fitzmorris served a two-minute penalty for goaltender interference.

Rams head coach Johnny Duco said Dupuis was fine after the whistle blew, and was not removed from the ice to diagnose an injury.

“I guess he was too slow to recover at the bench, (forcing us to put Brodie in net temporarily),“ Duco said.

The score remained the same heading into the third period, with the Rams doubling their shot total in a period.

Rams forward Devon Paliani scored under two minutes into the third to double the Rams’ lead. Mustangs defenceman Stephen Desrocher cut the Rams’ lead in half about a minute later in the second. Less than two minutes later, the teams were level again through Fitzmorris.

The game remained a stalemate until Rams veteran, Alex Leader, punished the Mustangs with a minute left in play to put the Rams back in the lead, 3-2. Then Rams forward Steven Harland put the game to bed with an empty net goal seconds later.

Despite their offensive prowess, the Rams gave themselves more work to do than was necessary after dropping a two-goal lead in the third period.

“We’re not naive, (we don’t) think we’ll play the whole game in our offensive zone, so we need to be sound defensively,” Duco said. “We need to be willing to block shots, take hits to make plays and I thought our guys really buckled down and did a really good job of executing our game plan.”

The Rams hit the road on Friday, travelling to London, Ont., to face Western in the second game of the series. A win would secure the team a place in the next round of the playoffs.

“To finish in two games is always the goal,” said Rams team captain, Alex Basso, “They’re going to come back with a lot of steam and in their rink it’s a bit tougher.

“It’s about being diligent and coming to work, and I think we have the skill to put the series away.”

Anders is a freelance photojournalist from Toronto. Photo pits, arena sidelines and music studios are where he's happiest.

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