Early Thunder lead in Game One leads to Bellies’ home loss in WLA Finals

by Paul Horn

It started well. The atmosphere in Queens Park Arena was already electric as the sizeable crowd gathered to witness the Bellies play in the WLA Finals for the first time since 2017. And 27 seconds into the game, a goal from Haiden Dickson took things up a notch. But the Thunder were not deterred, and they would be the only ones scoring for the remainder of the first period. Langley completed that frame with 5 goals, including three in a row from Robert Church, creating a lead that would never be overcome.

Despite the score, the first period was not a story of clear dominance. The Bellies possessed the ball for much of that frame and it showed in the shots column. New West peppered Thunder goaltender, Frank Scigliano, with 19 shots, and the Bellies were often successful in causing turnovers or earning resets off shots, but Scigliano’s performance made the difference. On the Salmonbellies’ end of the floor, the defense was allowing some space for Langley’s net crashers to work along the sideboards. Robinson and Dobbie found a way to the crease from the left side, while Church drove successfully on the right. With such clear looks, Bellies tender, Zach Higgins, was in tough against some of the best sharpshooters in the game.

All season long, the Bellies have demonstrated adaptability and resilience. Every slow start has represented an opportunity to claw back. Someone, it seems, is saying all the right things in the Bellies dressing room. And so it was on Wednesday, as New West emerged renewed and ready to play in periods 2 and 3. They would outscore the Thunder in both of the last two periods (5-4 and 3-2), but that early lead proved too hard to erase.

Period 2 began with a Langley marker, the first of Curtis Dickson’s three on the night. Brandon Goodwin would be the first New West scorer in the second, thanks to a thrilling transition goal. Indeed, New West would end up with three in transition (Shoemay and Belgrave had the others) on the night. Their ability to clear the ball was one of the team’s bright spots.

Curtis Dickson’s second goal restored Langley’s lead, but the Bellies then went on a three-goal tear. Crowley squeezed one past Scigliano, then Mitch Jones and Keegan Bal followed suit. These were inspiring goals, requiring the offensive players to crash through a physical Langley defense. In the case of Bal, the secret was getting airborne. Bal somehow defied the laws of gravity, finding a way to fake twice and shoot once before hitting the ground. Hope was alive in the building once again.

Langley’s Dylan Kinnear had already found his way to the scoresheet three times by this point in the game, but all three were for penalties. With less than 5 minutes left in the second, he scored for Langley and had his name written a fourth time. The Bellies’ run slowed but wasn’t stopped. Shoemay would take a ball end-to-end and stuff it past Scigliano at 18:13. It looked like the period would end at 8-6, but Curtis Dickson begged to differ. After the Bellies tried unsuccessfully to use a set play to close the period, Langley would dig up the loosie and take a timeout with just six seconds left. The play that emerged was not complex; get the ball to Curtis. With one second remaining, Dickson took a long shot from the high right, beating Higgins. It was his third in the period and it sent his Thunder team to the room with a 3-goal lead.

The Bellies were focused in the third, scoring another airborne beauty (this time by the ageless Jordan McBride) and another from Bal that found its way through a crowd. New West was within one and on a roll. Robert Church reminded everyone that he was still in the building at the 11:27 mark, potting his 4th of the game and restoring the Thunder’s two-goal lead. Drew Belgrave would answer just 90 seconds later, but the Bellies were never able to equalize. Dylan Kinnear’s second of the night came at 16:10 and would be the last of the game for either team. It was a hard-fought battle, but the Thunder emerged on the happier side of the 11-9 final score.

The Game’s Three Stars were Robert Church (1st, 4-4-8), Kevin Crowley (2nd, 1-2-3), and Curtis Dickson (3rd, 3-3-6). Despite the significant shot differential in the first period, the shots were nearly even by game’s end, with 51 by New West and 50 by Langley. New West’s powerplay earned 2 goals on 4 opportunities. Langley had one powerplay tally on 4 chances. Langley’s Scigliano earned an 82.4% save average, while New West’s Higgins ended the night at 78%.

Game Two will be played at the Langley Event Centre on Friday, August 18th at 7:30. Tickets are available at the door and via Langley’s website . Game 3 will return to Queens Park Arena 7:30 on Sunday, August 20th. Tickets are available at the box office now (during regular business hours) and on-line here. As always, you can purchase tickets at the door.

The Bellies are proudly sponsored by Stonehaus Realty!

Photos: Paul Evans 2023