Hat Tricks ready for decisive Game 3 at ‘electric’ Danbury Arena
There’s no place the Danbury Hat Tricks would rather be with their season hanging in the balance Monday night than at home. At Danbury Ice Arena.
Not only are the Hat Tricks 26-2-2 on home ice this season, they’ve already staved off playoff elimination once with a scintillating 5-2 win at home Saturday against the Binghamton Black Bears.
The best-of-3 second-round series is tied heading into the decisive game Monday.
Not only did the Hat Tricks bring their best to the season’s most important game Saturday, so did their passionate fans. And that did not go unnoticed by the Hat Tricks.
“The atmosphere was electric,” goalie Brian Wilson said. “The Danbury fans brought the energy and had our backs all night.”
Indeed, the energy inside Danbury Ice Arena was off the charts. And when Jonny Ruiz scored an empty-net goal at 18:39 of the third period to ice the crucial victory, well, it seemed the explosion may have been heard all the way to Binghamton.
“If the roof was ever coming off the building, it might have been when the Captain put in the empty netter,” Hat Tricks managing partner Herm Sorcher said.
Ruiz, who’s playing his third season in Danbury, made sure to salute the fans after the win. Introduced as the game’s First Star, Ruiz bolted back out on to the ice to celebrate with the fans.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Ruiz explained. “From first puck drop to that final horn, it was non-stop noise and passion. It gives you that extra boost.”
Billy McCreary, the Hat Tricks coach and general manager, doffed his trademark fedora to acknowledge fans in every section of the arena amid the postgame celebration.
“Our team is so focused on making this city, these fans, proud,” McCreary said. “So, it was great to feel that passion being returned by our fans.”
Of course, fan support carries a team only so far. So, credit is due to the Hat Tricks, who bounced back from a 6-1 loss in Game 1 Friday in Binghamton. The Hat Tricks allowed the final five goals in that one, turning a tight 1-1 game in the second period into their most lopsided loss of the season.
But there was no panic after the defeat. The Black Bears are a worthy opponent, one that finished second behind the Hat Tricks in the Empire Division this season. Yet, the Hat Tricks led the FPHL with a 44-7-5 record, responding whenever they were knocked back or down all season.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been so confident going into a game as I was [Saturday],” McCreary said. “This is a very resilient group.”
The Hat Tricks scored twice in the second period and carried a 2-1 lead into the third. A goal early in the final period by Jacob Ratcliffe provided Danbury breathing room before Binghamton scored with their goalie pulled for an extra attacker at 17:34. Two empty-net goals iced it and set off a big part in Danbury.
“Very proud of the way we bounced back,” said Ruiz, who scored two goals.
Speaking of bouncing back, it was a major rebound performance from Wilson. The FPHL co-goalie of the year stopped 33 of 35 shots one night after allowing six goals for the first time this season. He was exceptional in the early stages of Game 2, helping to keep it scoreless by denying a breakaway and several prime scoring chances for the Black Bears.
“I could tell in warmups ‘Willy’ was dialed in,” Hat Tricks goaltending coach Matt Voity said. “In the first few minutes of the game, you could see right away he was sharp, stopping several really good chances.”
Now it’s on to Game 3. A win, and the Hat tricks head to the Commissioner’s Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. A loss, and a memorable record-setting season will fall short of the ultimate goal.
“Monday will be exciting for us,” Wilson offered. “Playing in these meaningful games is what it’s all about.”
And no better place to play a must-win game than at home. Danbury Ice Arena.
“Game 3 is gonna be another dog fight,” Ruiz said. “But we’re going to play the way we have all season. The Danbury way.”
Added McCreary, “When we do that, we can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
Photos: Chris Rutsch