In a tournament full of ties, the Toronto Young Nationals are the only team who hasn't had one yet.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Brandon McCulloch from the Grenadiers de Châteauguay fires a shot in front of James Guest from the Toronto Young Nationals.
After losing their first game, the Young Nationals have now won three straight games. Toronto beat the Grenadiers de Châteauguay 3-1 Thursday to become the first team to clinch a spot in the semifinals.
"Those guys are good. I have to give it to them, but we battled hard and got the job done," said Toronto forward Steven Harland who scored the game-winning goal.
"We worked hard. In the first two periods we got a lot of cycles going. In the third period we kind of slacked a bit, but we were able to contain them to the outside and I think that helped us win."
The Nationals were able to clog the neutral zone to stifle the Grenadiers' potent transition game. They also were able to keep them from getting to the front of the Toronto net.
"They were skating and they were on the puck. They weren't giving us time and space. When they had a breakdown or anything like that, their goalie made saves," said Châteauguay head coach Bruce Richardson. "We have to give them credit. We didn't play a great game, but they played well. I was disappointed in our performance, but they didn't give us a chance to play well. They wanted it more than us. Plain and simple. There's no excuses."
After scoring four power play goals in their 4-2 win Wednesday against Moose Jaw, the Nationals opened the scoring in the second period when Jeremy Pullara scored on the power play.
"We've been practicing a lot and working on our team play and our special teams. The power play has been doing well so far," said Harland.
Harland deflected a Louis Di Matteo shot to double the Nationals lead before the end of the second period.
"They came out flying. They played a good hockey game and they applied a lot of pressure," said Richardson. "I think we were surprised and couldn't get the momentum going. After that it was catch-up hockey and it's always hard to play catch-up hockey."
The Grenadiers got on the board when Justin Samson scored six minutes into the third period.
Noah Gurr put the game away when he scored into an empty net while the Nationals were short-handed.
Toronto gave Oliver Jacobs his first start of the tournament in goal and he responded with a strong 23-save effort.
"Our goalie played really well," said Harland who admitted it's nice to be able to relax a little on the final day of the tournament knowing that they're already in the semifinals.
While the Grenadiers left themselves with work to do Friday, Richardson is happy that their fate is in their own hands. They may not even need to beat the Moose Jaw Generals, but they know a win will see them advance.
"We're going to approach it like we did in the playoffs," he said. "We lost Game 6 (of the final) 6-1 at home and we came back and won Game 7. I know that my guys have character and they'll prove it tomorrow."