Garden City knots series with St. Paul’s

Lourenco nets hat trick to force all-or-nothing Game 3 in championship series


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Garden City had everything, and nothing, to lose.

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Garden City had everything, and nothing, to lose.

It was a nearly-forgotten 17-year-old who staged a heroic return to the lineup to keep the Fighting Gophers’ season alive. In his first game action in nearly two months, Owen Lourenco recorded a hat trick to help Garden City Collegiate down the reigning champion St. Paul’s Crusaders 5-2 in Game 2 of the Winnipeg High School Hockey League Platinum Promotions Division championship at Seven Oaks Arena.

The firepower restored to the lineup not only offered Garden City a lifeline, but ultimately helped force a fateful Game 3 Thursday (4 p.m. puck drop at Seven Oaks Arena) to determine which of the province’s two best teams from the regular season will be crowned champion.

“He’s our top winger and he’s one of the top scorers in the league and he brings a lot of grit and smarts to our team,” said head coach Dustin Hughes, who’s been running the program since 2018. “It was just great to have him. He’s still not 100 per cent but he’s good enough that he can grit it down come playoff time and it was a good thing he did today.”

Lourenco opened the scoring in the second frame and iced the game with an empty netter. Colson Smith and Lucas Desousa also found the back of the net on the power play, on an evening Garden City went 2-for-5 with the man advantage.

“It was good. I feel perfectly fine. It’s not really about me, it’s about the team,” Lourenco told the Free Press.

“Really nice to be back out. We definitely battled a lot harder like we should have the first game but just got to do the same thing tomorrow.”

After being blown out 6-1 in Game 1, Garden City, which allowed just 43 goals in 24 games during the regular season, showed why it was the stingiest group in Manitoba this year. Despite being outshot 30-17 in the game, the Fighting Gophers were 6-for-6 on the penalty kill while goaltender Nick Pochinco put forth a stellar effort for the victory.

Pochinco faced a hefty 10-shot workload in an opening stanza that featured no goals. Despite allowing a lone goal in the second frame on a low-blocker shot from St. Paul’s Dario Macchia, who scored both Crusaders’ goals, Pochinco remained steady, stifling several Grade A chances throughout the remainder of the game to keep the Crusaders at bay.

“Nick played really well,” Hughes said. “He stepped up big time, which is what we needed. I think our defence did a better job of containing the play a little bit more to the outside, but Nick did a great job smothering pucks and not giving too many second chances.”

Lourenco added: “He did great. Stood on his head. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think the game would have been what it was.”

Neither team will need any added motivation ahead of today’s deciding rubber-match. While both teams have already qualified for provincials, Garden City will capture its first WHSHL Division 1 title with a win. St. Paul’s, meanwhile, is looking to pick up where it left off in 2019-20, going back-to-back and claiming its 13th Division 1 title since 2002.

“I think we had a little bit of stage fright (in Game 1). St. Paul’s is a very good team,” Hughes said.

“They got a deep team, they got a heavy team, but we had to turn the page and do the exact same thing they did to us in Game 1 and I think we did that today, and we have to do it again (Thursday).”

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.


Updated on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 9:23 PM CST: Fixes error in hockey championship name

Updated on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 10:20 PM CST: Fixes typo

Updated on Monday, March 6, 2023 9:36 AM CST: Corrects photo cutline

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