April 01, 2014
KINGSTON, Ont. — Sports is not real life, it's just fantasy. The Peterborough Petes have experienced the extreme end of each, mourning the loss of a member of their extended family before becoming the fourth OHL team to overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit.
Held together by Andrew D'Agostini, who faced at least 40 shots in six of the series' seven games, the Petes beat the Kingston Frontenacs 2-1 on a Nick Ritchie goal 12:17 deep into overtime to complete their comeback. So regrouping for the next round against the Oshawa Generals can wait while the Petes savour how they pulled together after centre Hunter Garlent's father, Rob, died at age 48 on Feb. 26.
The day after Rob Garlent's death, the Petes began a six-game win streak that included beating Memorial Cup host London while Hunter Garlent was absent. That put them in the right mode to never, ever give up against Kingston, who it did not beat in regulation time during the regular season. A team that wins in seven has 20 heroes, but Garlent was everywhere on the ice, creating countless chances and helping kill penalties, including the one OT hero-to-be Ritchie, a likely NHL first-rounder, took in the offensive zone with 2:02 left in a deadlocked game.
"I can’t explain the feeling right now, I just know not only when Hunter’s dad passed away but even when Hunter joined the team, he brought the team together," said D'Agostini, who made his 285th stop of the series just moments before Ritchie ended it in front of 5,388 fans at the K-Rock Centre. "That’s just his character. You could see things pick up a notch after he [Rob Garlent] did pass away.
"We were playing for an extra something. I think it was that weekend [after Rob Garlent's passing]. It was a character-building weekend with him out of the lineup and we took down some great teams. Having him back, we turned it up. As for this series, I can’t explain the feeling until I process it. We all believed. After every loss we knew we’d be okay."
Ritchie's fifth goal of the series — "I just kind of spun around and shot and it got a piece of the defenceman and went over the pad, it doesn’t matter how it goes in" — ended a riveting, rough-around-the-edges series between two angst-ridden fanbases. It sets up Peterborough-Oshawa and Barrie-North Bay second-round series in the Eastern half of the OHL post-season.
'Definitely had someone helping us'
The Petes came into this season having missed the playoffs three years in a row and facing calls for a change to the franchise's structure. The loss means the Frontenacs are 0-for-the-2000s at winning playoff series.
"It’s unbelievable considering what we've gone through over the last three years," second-year Petes GM Mike Oke said. "I can’t even describe it without getting emotional because Hunter, his father, it really hit us hard. We rallied around him. We definitely had someone helping us. It’s unbelievable how much these guys care for each other."
Peterborough got back on the rails by winning 3-1 in Game 4. It sandwiched two OT wins in Kingston around a 5-4 comeback win on Sunday. In that one, Garlent scored the winner with 3:43 left on a slapshot that was tipped by a defender and knuckled through Kingston goalie Lucas Peressini's five-hole, forcing a Game 7.
It was if Garlent had a little help, if you believe in that sort of thing.
"The last couple games of the season were tough, coming back from everything that happened," said Garlent, who gave the Petes' more punch up front after coming over in a Jan. 7 trade with Guelph. "But I definitely think he was watching over and I definitely think he was around for this series, and going on to the next.
"Every shift that I play, it’s for him. Scoring that goal the other night was unbelievable. He was a proud and awesome dad, and it’s awesome when you can play for someone else.
"The other night [Sunday] my mom [Nikki Garlent] was smiling from ear to ear," the 18-year-old said. "I came out and said ‘that goal was for him.' "
It's too soon to say what the win will do to reinvigorate the Petes, who had five buses of fans travel down for the game. Ritchie made sure to salute the supporters after breaking free of the celebratory dogpile. With the win, the Petes joined the 1988 Ottawa 67's (over Oshawa), 2005 Windsor Spitfires (Sault Ste. Marie) and 2010 Spitfires (Kitchener) on the select list of OHL teams who have come back from being in a 3-0 hole. The club will go into the next round against a rested Oshawa team minus two forwards, too, since Michael Clarke and Josh Maguire each have four games left on suspensions incurred during an emotional series.
"We've gone through lots with some down years, to come back and win as a sixth seed, we’re certainly proud but we’re not finished," Oke said. "We’re going to focus on our next opponent, the Generals. But there's so much emotion with everything that’s gone on this year."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.