The undefeated Cleveland Crunch hit the road again to face the Chicago Mustangs at the Sears Centre Arena. Both teams were headed into the matchup following big wins as the Crunch defeated the Muskegon Risers 7-5 last weekend and the Mustangs beat the Omaha Kings 10-5 Saturday night.
Cleveland entered the game tied with the Wichita Wings for the best record in the league. Both teams carrying identical 3-0 marks. Chicago found itself behind the two league leaders, one game back.
The Crunch got off to a fast start as forward Mike Derezic scored the opener just over one minute into the first period. However, just before the end of the first, Leo Acosta equaled things for the Mustangs, 1-1.
The second period saw the teams’ defense control things as only Chicago managed to score a solitary goal. Adrien Graffin scored off an assist from Alex Gomez to give the hosts a 2-1 lead at halftime. For the second consecutive game, the Crunch and their hosts engaged in a defensive first half. Would the second half provide more fireworks?
The third period saw the Mustangs push its lead to two when Adrian Ortiz scored the first of his three goals of the game. The visitors evened the score at three with consecutive goals by forward Ryan Minick and Derezic (his second). The Mustangs responded with two goals of their own via goals by Acosta (his second with an assist from Graffin) and Ortiz (his second with an assist from Gomez). The period ended with Chicago leading, 5-3.
Graffin opened the scoring in the fourth with his second goal of the evening off an assist from Gomez. Crunch defender Kevin Blackwood pared the lead down to two with his first goal of the game. Soon after, Derezic finished his hat trick (his third of the season) to make it 6-5. Ortiz answered Derezic’s hat trick with his own as he scored his third of the night to pushed the Mustangs’ lead back to two, 7-5. With Martin Murillo’s goal for Chicago, the match seemed all but over.
The Crunch had other plans.
Pulling their goalkeeper, Miski Petkovic, Cleveland went on the offensive with six attackers. The barrage saw the visitors net three goals in the final three minutes. Blackwood was huge as he assisted on Minick’s goal to make it 8-6. He followed that by scoring back-to-back goals to tie the game and earn himself a hat trick as well. The last came with 36 seconds left in regulation.
In the first minute of extra time, Gomez was able to elude a Crunch defender by the boards and his sharp-angled shot beat Petkovic to give the hosts a 9-8 victory.
Although the Crunch fell for the first time this season, they showed plenty of heart as they never gave in, especially after falling down by three goals with five minutes to play. The loss drops them to third in MASL 2 behind Wichita and Chicago. Cleveland next plays in Muskegon against the same Chicago side as the Great Lakes Invitational continues.