Attack and Hounds prepare for Game 4

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On Tuesday afternoon, in a mostly-empty Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, the Ontario Hockey League’s top team practiced rushes.

Down 2-1 to the Owen Sound Attack in their Western Conference semifinal the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds’ regular season record, rankings, and accolades, are now only helpful in providing context.

Still, as Taylor Raddysh snapped a shot top corner. As Boris Katchouk patiently dragged a puck across the goal mouth and tucked it between the goalie’s skate and post. As Morgan Frost faked a wrist-shot and hit Barrett Hayton streaking to the net for the goal – it was hard to see the Greyhounds as a desperate team.

It’s even harder to believe the team that won 23-straight games during the regular season is now faced with “must win” narratives in the playoffs.

“They’re all must win,” Soo coach Drew Bannister was quoted post game Monday night in the Sault Star.

The Attack’s Kevin Hancock would agree.

“We want to be up 3-1 going back to the Soo,” he said rink-side on Tuesday as the Greyhounds took the ice. “We’ve played two up there. We know how hard that building can be to play in.”

Both teams have used their speed to put the other off balance.

Owen Sound’s coach Todd Gill said after Monday’s game the Greyhounds were “coming at us with too much speed” forcing his team to make some adjustments.

Bannister wasn’t happy with his team’s compete level.

“I think we’re playing with a lot of speed right now,” said Hancock. “Throughout the year that’s the one thing we preached . . . they they use their speed, we need to push back.”

Hancock is now second on the Attack with 10 points in seven playoff games – five goals and five assists. Six of those points have come with the man-advantage, and one goal was scored shorthanded.

Owen Sound’s top-line centre has also worked at a 58 per cent clip in the face-off circle.

His first goal on Monday night opened the scoring.

“It’s crazy,” he reflected. “One of the loudest buildings I’ve ever heard last night. It gives us a lot of energy on the bench when we hear the crowd start chanting for us.”

Stretching back to the regular season, Owen Sound’s record is 28-6-3 since Hancock returned from a hand injury on January 11.

Olivier Lafreniere’s improved play has helped the Attack in the playoffs.

“He doesn’t have to go out and win us hockey games, he just has to be good,” said Gill after Game 3.

Obviously, the playoffs provide a smaller sample size than the regular season, but through seven games the goaltender has a 2.67 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. Both numbers are vast improvements over his regular season statistics through parts of three years in the Ontario Hockey League.

“We know he’s there to make that big save when we need him,” said Hancock.

Maksim Sushko elevated his game Monday night and finished with three assists while Aidan Dudas scored the game-winning goal on a nifty move in tight.

Cade Robinson contributed with his first goal of the playoffs.

“It’s nice when all lines are putting up goals,” Hancock said.

Hancock spoke about measured confidence on Tuesday as he answered questions while watching the Greyhounds practice.

He didn’t let himself or his team off the hook for a sloppy penalty kill in the first period which lead to Sault Ste. Marie’s first goal. He diagramed the play, talked about a bad bounce and a failure to get the puck out. He noted the Greyhounds spent a minute and thirty seconds in the Attack end before the goal.

“We’ve got to limit our mistakes. We had a couple of lapses . . . we can tighten up,” he said. “We know they’re going to be coming out strong.”

One luxury, or pitfall, teams don’t often get in the postseason is time to dwell on the past. The puck drops for Game 4 on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Owen Sound.