Niagara IceDogs broadcaster Steve Clark gives a first-hand account of Connor Crisp’s goaltending debut

St. Catharines, ON – I thought that had seen it all when we the lights went out in the Gatorade Garden City Complex a couple of years ago, forcing a 45 minute delay and then the subsequent completion of the game in front of about 200 enthusiastic fans.

Then there was Sunday, March 4 2012. It was the day centre/goalie Connor Crisp became a media sensation and the #4 trending topic on Twitter when he was forced to replace starter Ramis Sadikov (who was ran over by Niagara IceDogs forward Alex Friesen) because Erie did not bring a back-up goalie. Friesen, by the way, inexplicably got a five minute charging penalty and a game misconduct instead of the usual 2 minutes for goaltender interference. .

Ironically, I had asked Paul Roper, the fine radio play-by-play voice of the Otters, before the game about what would happen if the Otters did lose their goaltender and we all had a good laugh pre-game about how maybe the Otters would turn their net around, just like you used to do when you rented the ice and only had one goalie.

What followed was something along the lines of a tragic-farce. Crisp, who admitted that he never strapped on the goalie pads since he was five years old, bumbled his way on the ice, handled a couple of easy warm up shots and then promptly fell down. While the fans had a good laugh, and we chuckled on air a little bit too. However, we tried to also made the point that this was a bit of an embarrassment to the OHL, supposedly the top feeder league to the NHL, because the Otters solution was more along the lines of house league or beer league hockey. What else were the Otters to do?

They could forfeit the game – and thus, enrage 3,000 paying customers who would correctly demand a refund, and the Burke’s, who are the owners of the Ice Dogs would likely have to honour their demands. Or they could put a position player in the net because it had become abundantly clear that Sadikov’s day was done.

Predictably Freddie Hamilton would test Crisp from the outside with a harmless wrist shot that eluded the befuddled goaltender rang off the post and in. Freddie Hamilton, an astute hockey mind if there ever was one, reacted with sheepish amusement. No celebration, no jump into the boards, just a head down and an acceptance of reluctant congratulations from his equally bemused teammates.

The Otters would actually make a game of it in the first period after spotting the Ice Dogs a 3-0 lead, by striking back twice against an Ice Dog team who did not really know how to handle the situation.

When the second period began Crisp started to skate to the wrong side of the rink, drawing some more guffaws from the crowd and the game began to get a little more predictable. Ryan Strome netted a hat trick in the second period and the Dogs went into the second period locker room with a 7-3 lead.

Unintentional humour was provided by the officials when then assessed Niagara’s Milan Doudera with a delay of game penalty. This after the Otters took 20 minutes to stitch and sew Crisp’s name and number on a jersey and then delayed the game a good three times more by having to do up his pads during stoppages

After the teams traded goals, the games intensity got ratcheted up when Tyler McCarthy took a run at Ice Dogs Tom Kuhnhackl and levelled the Ice Dog forward with a direct shot to the head. A ludicrous two minutes for contact to the head was assessed by the officials, and from that point on the Ice Dogs poured it on a little bit with five straight unanswered goals and Strome would end the day with five goals and one assist.

A nice moment came at the end of the day as the crowd rose to give the battling Crisp a nice round of applause and the Ice Dogs came over and congratulated the embattled goaltender. Crisp was named the first star of the game, and he gets credit for facing not only one of the top offences not just in the OHL, but also the CHL.

Sadly social media came alive and there was the predictable dissing of the Ice Dogs for running up the score. Really, what else were the Ice Dogs to do? Dump the puck in the corner while on a 2 on 1. I remember asking former Tiger Cat and McMaster Marauder football coach Greg Marshall on what he thought of a team that scored a meaningless touchdown against his squad when the game had long been decided. He told me that it is more of an embarrassment if it is obvious that a team is trying not to score, rather than scoring when the opportunity presents itself. Play hard until the end of the game was his mantra, and it is one that I have believed in since.

Sherwood Bassin, owner of the Otters, has come out with an apology for what happened, which I thought was a classy move. What has not been so classy is the level of vitriol dumped on the Ice Dogs’ players, particularly Ryan Strome, who was deemed to have padded his stats after a five goal performance. Ryan Strome does not need my defense, but I think people need to be reasonable in this situation.

The bigger issues is not whether or not a team ran up the score, but rather the curious way the officials handled the game in light of the Friesen and McCarthy calls and the fact that OHL needs to address the fact that a team did not have a back up goaltender.

I have long since given up tried to figure out how the OHL handles supplementary discipline, so I will not even try to offer an opinion as to how they are going to handle some the penalized elements of this game. I am a humble part time sports commentator, not the Amazing Kreskin.

In the long run, I felt all the players on the ice, with the exception of a couple, handled themselves with grace and class, none more than Crisp himself who has become something of a hero for stopping 33 of 46 shots directed at him.

How the OHL handles this particular situation going forward will be interesting to say the least.

– Steve Clark, Special to CoincidentalMinors.com
@SteveClarkMedia

(Steve Clark is the play-by-play broadcaster for the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs with TVCogeco.)

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