Brock’s men’s hockey team lined up against the Guelph Gryphons in the 2022 Steel Blade Classic on Sept. 23. Friday’s match at the Meridian Centre was the 22nd edition of the traditional homecoming event that was established in 1999. Last time the game was played, Guelph beat Brock by a score of 4-1. The Badgers looked to return the Steel Blade trophy —a sword carried during the War of 1812 — back to St. Catharines.
The game got off to a slow start with both teams feeling each other out. Guelph almost got lucky a minute and a half in with a dribbler through the crease off a play behind the net, but there were few chances in the first five minutes. After that, the Badgers seemed to settle in, getting several chances off extended zone time and some excellent forechecking and puck retrieval work to keep plays alive.
The first two big chances of the game came shortly thereafter. Guelph had a rush opportunity turned away six minutes in. Soon after, forward Jacob Roach broke up a Guelph pass in their defensive zone, cut into the slot, and made a slick cross-crease pass to right winger Christian Girhiny who was turned away by a pad save.
Not discouraged, Brock kept at it, continuing their heavy pressure below the goal line. Despite a 3-2 opportunity for the Gryphons at 10:47 remaining, much of the first was all Brock. The Badgers’ hard-nosed mentality was eventually rewarded at 8:30 minutes remaining with a goal off a point blast by defenseman Jake Cella that beat the goalie clean top-corner.
“It is a strategy and it is a mentality,” said head coach T.J. Manastersky post-game, “We want to win both net-fronts.”
Brock had two more chances on rebound opportunities soon after. With some stellar goaltending by Mario Peccia to break up some odd-man rushes and an aggressive penalty-kill that created a shorthanded break, the Badgers exited the first up 1-0.
“We had timely goaltending, Mario made timely saves on odd-man rushes,” said Manastersky, “We need to do better to not give up those chances, but you have a goalie for a reason and he did a great job of that.”
Brock started the second on a mission. A scramble play in Guelph’s crease netted Girhiny a goal 14 seconds in.
“That second goal, right at the beginning of the second period…we were working, and then we were first on a puck and won some battles at the net front. I think there’s moments in a game when you win, and I think we captured some of those moments,” said coach Manastersky.
Guelph would continue to turn over a number of pucks in their own zone, eventually letting Christophe Côté add another five minutes later, stretching the lead to three.
Brock’s hard-pressure style had also built a lot of animosity between the two clubs, leading to many penalties on either side. However, this seemed to lend itself to Brock’s strengths as at 7:41, forward Jordan Stock would take a long rimmed pass from Peccia, springing a partial shorthanded breakaway that Stock would score on. Three minutes later, Roach would come in on a two-on-one and, after selling a pass, would wire one past the Guelph goalie, who would be pulled from the game.
Guelph finally broke the ice 13:15 when a Gryphon dragged the puck around a sliding defender and buried it in tight.
The Badgers would finish the period up 5-1, outshooting Guelph 19-5.
The third period would stay mostly scoreless as the aggressiveness –and the penalties, ramped up on both sides. Guelph, clearly frustrated, got involved in skirmishes with Brock throughout the period. The Gryphons would score again at 14:05, but another wrist shot goal by Frankie Pucci off the rush would cement Brock’s win in the dying seconds of the game.
“It feels really good that they got a nice result tonight. I feel really happy for them and I’m proud of it because so much effort went into this event,” said coach Manastersky, “it’s bigger than just us in the room. This is a university event, this has historical significance to the region. So to be able to have a victory and just send more positive vibes into the week, it’s really great.”
The Badgers will continue with four more exhibition games, the next one at home in Canada Games Park on Sept. 30 against the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks. The men’s ice hockey regular season starts on Oct.14 in Waterloo against the Warriors. Their first home game is on Saturday, Oct. 15 against Western University.
You can find the full schedule of the men’s ice hockey games on the Brock Badgers website.