WATERTOWN – With their season on the line Sunday night, Cole McKechney and the Watertown Wolves didn’t back down.
With his team trailing by a goal entering the third period, McKechney scored a pair of goals, including converting on a crucial penalty shot, as the Wolves stormed back to defeat the Columbus River Dragons, 4-1, in Game 2 of the Federal Prospects Hockey League final before 789 fans at Watertown Municipal Arena.
Andrew Harrison followed by scoring a breakaway goal and rookie goalie Adam Beukeboom made 32 saves as Watertown staved off elimination.
“This is pretty good, it feels good,” McKechney, a rookie forward, said. “We wanted this the whole year and it will come down to (tonight) now.”
The Wolves evened the series at 1-1 to force a third and deciding game, which they will host at 6:30 pm Monday.
“I think we showed a lot of character tonight,” Harrison said. “We were down, but like we’ve been saying all year, if we play our game, eventually it’s going to happen for us and it showed tonight. We just kept working hard and chipping away and Cole got us going with that huge penalty-shot goal and we just kind of rolled from there. ”
With Columbus leading for most of the game on Josh Pietrantonio’s goal in the first period, Watertown responded by scoring three goals within a span of 5 minutes, 9 seconds in the third period to turn the game.
“That was a good momentum changer for us and got our confidence going, hopefully we can just carry that on (our) next game,” McKechney said of the goal-scoring sequence.
The Wolves were awarded a penalty shot 3:58 into the period after officials ruled a Columbus defender had closed his hand on the puck while in the crease.
McKechney skated in and from his left beat River Dragons goalie Bailey MacBurnie with a wrist shot up high and into the right side of the net.
“It’s a move I usually do, I come in wide, take a step and shoot far side and I just found a spot, just over the glove,” McKechney said.
“I think it lifted the team, lifted the crowd and got us going big time,” Harrison said.
Just 2:03 later, Harrison gave Watertown the lead as he took a pass from Justin MacDonald and beat MacBurnie, again up high, and was mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
“I had a bit of a breakaway early in the game and missed and they scored off the turnover there, so I owed the team one,” Harrison said. “And it was nice to be able to get one back for us.”
McKechney struck for his second goal of the night as he roofed a drive up top over MacBurnie to finish off a feed from Troy Taylor with 10:03 remaining in regulation.
“We were positive going in (the third period) because we know we have the team in there (dressing room),” Harrison said. “We just said if we keep playing our game, we and keep doing things the right way we’re going to get rewarded.”
MacDonald added a shorthanded, empty-net goal with 11.6 seconds left in the game.
Beukeboom stopped all 22 shots he faced in the final two periods, including 11 in the final frame. This included denying Pietrantonio’s bid on a partial breakaway late in the second period while Columbus was shorthanded.
“We were down for most of the game and we came back, we responded when we had to, which was awesome,” Beukeboom said.
MacBurnie, selected as the league’s goalie of the year, finished with 42 saves, including 38 over the first two periods, before Watertown broke through in the third.
“It was an exciting game,” said Watertown coach Brent Clarke. “We couldn’t get one past him at first and he played a great game, their goaltender, again. Kudos to him and it was a good game. In the third period it opened up for us after that penalty shot. The boys rallied back and it was exciting. ”
Pietrantonio provided Columbus with a 1-0 lead on his goal 10:30 into the game as he finished off a cross-ice pass from Jagger Williamson.
The Wolves bounced back after a 3-2 loss at Columbus on Friday in the opener series. The River Dragons rallied to prevail after MacDonald scored the game’s first goal 24 seconds into the game.
“They do a good job just playing a simple game and kind of didn’t give us anything, so we have to work for all our chances,” McKechney said of Columbus.
In contrast to last week when the Wolves experienced travel issues with the team bus while traveling to Winston-Salem, NC, to play the Carolina Thunderbirds in the semifinals, this time the team took a flight to Columbus, Ga., And back. The team arrived in Syracuse on Saturday, before bussing to Watertown.
“We got in, got some rest, recovered and got focused for tonight and it showed,” Harrison said.
The Wolves remain in the quest of another league championship, after winning previous titles in 2015 and ’18.
“We’re feeling good, but the job isn’t done,” Harrison said. “We know we need one more win, so we’re happy about tonight, but we’re already focused on getting ready for tomorrow.”
n NOTES: McKechney scored his first two playoff goals as a pro. … MacDonald leads the Wolves in playoff scoring with nine points, including a team-best five goals, in four games. … Harrison, a veteran winger who is in his 10th pro season, played for the Watertown Privateers of the then Federal Hockey League back in the 2013-14 season.