Strand performs OT heroics for Knights to finish year with 26 wins
On the final day of the regular season, a back-and-forth affair ended in the final minute of overtime with Jordan Strand rifling home the game winner in a 5-4 Knights’ win over the Maryland Black Bears.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton not only swept the weekend, but also the season series, going 8-0 against the NAHL’s newest team. It marks the first time in franchise history that the Knights swept a season series against an East Division team. Overall, the Knights ended their 2018-19 campaign with a 26-29-5 record.
In their final game as well, Maryland put up a fight. After an 8-1 win for the grey and blue Friday, the Black Bears were in no way looking for a repeat come Saturday afternoon. Though the Knights struck first, courtesy of Jake Fuss, it was Maryland who would take a lead going into intermission. With just over two minutes to play in the first period, the Knights were granted a power play that had less than ideal results. Lukas Ljungblom scored two shorthanded goals in 1:40 to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.
Tom Kowal’s group would make up for their special teams blunder in the second period, as both Adrian Danchenko and Tyrone Bronte scored power play goals to give the Knights a 3-2 edge. Wilkes-Barre also blistered Maryland’s David Tomeo, a former Knights’ goalie, in the second period by outshooting the Black Bears, 21-5. The club entered the third period with a lead for the 18th time this season. They had gone 15-1-1 in the previous situations.
Fuss applied the two goal cushion when he scored his team-best 20th goal of the season and second of the game early in the frame. Like the two goals in the second, his was also on the power play. Fuss finished the year and his junior hockey career at a torrent pace. The ’98 scored 18 of his 20 goals since January 19th, and had 28 points in his last 29 games.
Mayland’s Marek Wazny pulled the team within one with 13 minutes to play. From there, the Knights continued to hold Maryland off until the dying minutes. As the Black Bears continued to apply pressure, Head Coach Clint Mylymok elected to pull the goalie for an extra attacker, resulting in a game tying goal from Luke Mountain with 1:08 to play. Perhaps even more disastrous for the Knights was when Markus Cook was called down for tripping with five seconds left in regulation. This gave Maryland a power play to operate with in overtime.
Fortunately, the Knights penalty kill continued its marvelous play, and with less than a minute until a shootout would be needed, defenseman Jordan Strand took a burst of speed down the ice for a breakaway. Strand would roof the shot to the right side of the net, and the party began as the Knights dealt with adversity in the face one more time this year, and they came out on top, 5-4. Zach Stejskal picked up his 25th win of the season making 22 saves in the contest. His opposite, Tomeo, took the loss in a 36 save effort.
The team put themselves in position to still have playoff hopes following game 60, but the Northeast Generals won later on Saturday night, thus eliminating the Knights from playoff contention. It is the first time in the team’s NAHL tenure that a playoff berth was not secured.
Because it is their age-out year, this indefinitely ends the junior hockey careers of Joey Verkerke, Jake Fuss, and Captain Shay Donovan. On behalf of the entire Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights organization, we want to wish Joey, Jake, and Shay the absolute best of luck as they move forward in their careers, and thank them for their incredible amount of service given to this hockey club.