The 18th annual Steel Blade Classic drew 4,974 fans to the Meridian Centre, breaking Brock University’s record for the largest crowd at a Brock sporting event. According to the university, it was also the highest attendance for a university hockey game held in Ontario – however, CUSN hockey insider Victor Findlay reports a 2005 hockey game between Lakehead and Western hosted 5,230 people in London.
Nonetheless, the record crowd was a positive for Brock. Unfortunately, the chorus of Badger fans singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” wasn’t enough to swing the Badgers to victory. Brock would fall to the Guelph Gryphons 5-3, despite a strong game from goaltender Clint Windsor. The fourth-year goalie, who was a huge bright spot for the Badgers last season, recorded 25 saves against the Gryphons.
The Badgers did set the tone early as Connor Brown scored before a majority of the crowd could get seated – putting the Badgers up 33 seconds into the contest. The first look at new Brock head coach Marty Williamson’s squad showed a hard-hitting style of play. The Badgers offensive pressure in the corners and quick puck movement kept Guelph’s goaltender Andrew Masters – a transfer from NCAA division-one school Miami University – busy. Despite two penalties early in the first period, the Badgers were able to escape with a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Things turned awry for the Badgers in the second period, as Guelph scored four unanswered goals. Windsor faced a flurry of shots in the second period, and the Badgers found themselves in the box five times on Friday. The team that we saw in the first period completely vanished as the Badgers struggled to get going offensively.
“First and the third weren’t bad periods for us, but the second was a real bad period,” said Williamson. “We weren’t moving. We were watching the game [and] when you give up four goals it’s tough to come back. I give [Guelph] lots of credit, and in the third period we did get close, but that’s a disappointing second period.”
When asked to comment on the play of Windsor – who at the end of last season had a tryout with the Toronto Marlies, the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs – Williamson had nothing but praise, “[He was] pretty solid. He does a great job for us. We just can’t give up those kinds of opportunities like we gave up and expect him to stop all of them.”
During the third period, the Badgers struggled to gain momentum in the first ten minutes and Windsor bailed them out many times. It was deja vu as the Badgers and Gryphons had multiple stoppages due to fighting. The fighting didn’t seem to help Brock much at all. Anytime the Badgers caught some momentum, penalties kept them from getting the equalizer.
The Gryphons powerplay connected on their third man-advantage of the night during the second period, which gave them the 2-1 lead.
The Badgers were able to get through most of the third period without having to play down a man, but couldn’t stay out of the box.
“We had that one [penalty] in the last five minutes, you can’t do that,” Williamson said. Though Brock was close at the end, taking the penalty cost them. “We needed every second on the clock, we have to learn from that.”
Though the Badgers were able to pull within one goal, they couldn’t seem to keep the puck in the zone. Their poor decisions behind the net led to a Guelph’s empty-netter with less than a minute to go.
When asked what his team needs to improve on in the next three weeks before their regular season starts, Williamson said, “Our conditioning and our play away from the puck, we’ve got to get better. We’ve got some guys, they watch the game and stand around and they need to anticipate and be proactive not reactive.”
The Badgers begin their regular season on October 11 in Guelph at the Guelph Centre.