Albany, N.Y. — Ben Chiarot scored a similar goal seven years ago, but that was midget hockey. This was different, a bigger goal on a bigger stage.
The second-year St. John’s IceCaps defenceman blasted a shot from the right point with 24 seconds left in regulation time to beat Albany Devils goaltender Keith Kincaid and give his team a 2-1 win in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff quarter-final Friday night in upstate New York.
Game 2 in the best-of-five Calder Cup post-season series goes 8:30 p.m. (NL time) Saturday at the Times Union Centre.
“This is the biggest, no doubt. Not even close,” Chiarot said when asked if he’d ever scored a more important goal in his young career.
“I mean, an AHL playoff game, last minute … that was pretty exciting.”
In 2007, while toiling for the Mississauga IceDogs major midget team, Chiarot scored in the last minute of the final game to give his squad – which would produce 14 Ontario Hockey League draft picks, including NHLer Casey Cizikas of the New York Islanders – the OHL Cup midget championship.
“That was great, but this one … well, what can you say? It’s funny, but when the puck went in, there was a little feeling of both joy and relief. It was a hard game. Your legs are getting a little heavy by the end of the third period.”
As expected, this one was a close-checking affair, although it was the IceCaps getting on the scoreboard early when Eric O’Dell, thanks to some great forechecking by Jerome Samson, scored 4:29 in.
The IceCaps looked very good in the opening period, outshooting the Devils 14-10.
But a different St. John’s team showed up to start the second, as the IceCaps managed only one shot in the first 10 minutes.
During that period of time, Joe Whitney drew Albany even with a power play goal at 2:13.
The IceCaps managed to shut down the Devils for the remainder of the period, and both teams were fairly even-steven in the third, although the Devils were pressing very hard until Chiarot drove a stake through their hearts.
“I thought we had really good jump in the first period,” St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge said. “In the second period, they put the pressure on us, and we were unable to break pucks out cleanly.
“Same thing in the third period. It went back and forth a little bit, but we spent more time in our own zone than I would have liked.
“But that’s close, tight-checking playoff hockey. Albany doesn’t allow you to generate much offence. It’s high-intensity hockey and everybody realizes what’s on the line here.”
Considering the first round is a short best-of-five affair, it goes without saying that winning the first game was very important to the IceCaps.
“No,” Chiarot said, “it’s huge to get the first game.
“Obviously, it’s a really quick series and taking one out of their building, especially the first one, it sets the tone for the series.”
“When you start on the road in a two-three format,” McCambridge said, “you want to at least get a split to maintain home ice advantage.
“But our thought process is short-term memory. We have to ensure we come back and have even more than what we brought tonight.”
The IceCaps got a scare late in the second period when goaltender Michael Hutchinson took a slash from Rod Pelley and hit the ice hard, rolling in apparent pain.
But Hutchinson regrouped and finished up, making 25 saves in a second-star performance.