For the first time in Willmar WarHawks history the team has won a playoff series! After taking Game 1 on the road Thursday night the WarHawks returned home to complete the sweep winning Game 2 by the score of 3-1.
It was an emotional scene on the ice after the victory. For the players who have battled all year completing a 22-18-0-0 regular season with a playoff series win is a great accomplishment.
For the local fans who have endured WarHawks hockey for five seasons now, the chance to watch the home time clinch a series on home ice is reward in itself. Willmar had only competed in one playoff series prior to this season, losing to these same Lumberjacks in two straight games.
Ben Johnson got the WarHawks off to a good start scoring the opening goal 13:47 of the first. The period would end with Willmar holding a one-goal lead. Shots in the period were 16-11 in the WarHawks favor.
It was a much more determined effort by the Lumberjacks in the second and they were rewarded when Troy Dahlheimer tied the game at 2:56. Granite City would put 14 shots on net in the frame, but were held at-bay by Lukas Haugen who was in net for both playoff victories.
Entering the third Willmar knew they wanted to close out the series at home and avoid a potential Game 3 in Sauk Rapids. The teams didn’t give up much in the third with the WarHawks outshooting the visitors 12-6 in the opening 19 minutes.
Then with just :51 on the clock Dylan Gajewski and Lewis Rowan put pressure on the Granite City defense, forcing a turnover. Rowan then connected with a streaking Isaiah Thomas who buried the game winner.
Gajewski added an empty net goal in the final seconds to clinch the game and series.
“Unbelievable effort and win,” was the reaction of Kirk Olimb after the win. “Hats off to Granite City. They’re a great team and had an awesome season. Much respect to them.”
Oregon now turn their attention to the NA3HL West Division Finals. The Tradesmen will face the winner of the North Iowa Bulls-Alexandria Blizzard series. Those teams are playing Game 1 tonight in Mason City.