Local pro hockey: Wolves oust Thunderbirds, advance to FPHL title series | Wolves

WATERTOWN – Finishing off a tumultuous weekend that included a challenging road trip, the Watertown Wolves are headed back to the Federal Prospects Hockey League finals.

Ahmed Mahfouz scored the deciding goal early in the third period and rookie goalie Adam Beukeboom made 24 saves as the Wolves defeated the Carolina Thunderbirds, 3-1, on Sunday night before 603 fans at Watertown Municipal Arena.

Watertown swept the two-game semifinal series and advances to the best-of-three finals, where it will play the Columbus River Dragons.

“This is great,” Mahfouz said. “When you’ve got to go eliminate a team where their life’s on the line, they’re going to come out hard and battle. I give them a lot of respect, they did what they had to do and we’re just the better team and we wanted it more. We just got the job done. ”

Mahfouz generated the winning goal on the power play, finishing off a feed from Justin MacDonald 3 minutes, 44 seconds into the final period.

“There was good movement on the power play and I just happened to get the puck in the slot,” Mahfouz said. “I got the goalie to bite and I got lucky that the puck went in. It was a big goal for the team and all the boys after that got a little momentum jump. ”

Beukeboom stopped all eight shots he faced in the third period for the win.

“It’s awesome,” Beukeboom said. “It felt like as soon as that game ended, I was thinking about the next series. The boys showed up, and both games the boys showed up and we shut it down on the back end and they generally they’re making it easy for me back there. It was a hell of a game for the boys. ”

After a scoreless first period, the Wolves broke through on rookie Michael Mercurio’s goal 4:22 into the middle period as he converted on a feed from Cole McKechney.

Carolina drew even on Kalib Ford’s goal from close with 3:17 left in the period, with Dawson Baker assisting.

“We came out playing well defensively and that’s what we were banking on,” MacDonald said. “We got a big goal from Mercury and that’s huge. For players like that, it’s awesome to see them play like that and score like that, they made a huge impression on the game. ”

Mahfouz followed with the go-ahead goal with 59 seconds left on a power play as Watertown converted on its only man advantage.

“It was good, we stretched them out, so they came running to me and Mahfouz is in the right spot, he’s in the right slot,” MacDonald said. “And when they come to me that’s going to leave someone else open and he was right there and he made an awesome move.”

Then with Carolina goalie Nicholas Modica pulled for an extra attacker, MacDonald scored a goal, with Mahfouz assisting, at 19:59.

Along with Beukeboom, Watertown coach Brent Clarke also credited the Wolves’ team defense in the series win, allowing two goals in two games.

“I loved our effort,” Clarke said. “This is one of the best defensive games they’ve had all season long. Finally 62 games in we’re dialed in on our defensive side. So maybe it took the playoffs and what we’re playing for to sink in, but I was very happy with the way our defense played. ”

Watertown killed off all four of its penalties, including two-man advantages in the second and third periods. It also killed off a 5-on-3 Thunderbirds man advantage for 19 seconds late in the second period.

“Our special teams have been great,” MacDonald said. “We haven’t been scored on the penalty kill and we scored every time on the power play. Like I said it all year, special teams will win you games. ”

The outcome proved to be worth the wait for the Wolves, who experienced travel issues on their journey to Carolina for Friday’s opener.

“Travel definitely wasn’t on our side,” MacDonald said. “But adversity, you can see that no matter what we’re thrown at, we’ll knock it down and bear down and it won’t affect us in games. Hopefully the travel is a little better down to Columbus (Ga.). ”

The team made its way to Winston-Salem, NC, for the game, and won, 4-1, but Game 2, originally set for Saturday night in Watertown, was delayed until Sunday because of problems with the Wolves team bus. The team had to find alternative options for the road trip back home.

“We were trying to figure out ways,” MacDonald said. “I kept searching for other ways to get home the day before, because we had to get home. … So I was able to find a way, we rented some cars and made our way back. ”

The team collectively didn’t arrive back until the early morning hours Sunday.

“The most wild thing about the whole thing was our travel, but we made it,” Clarke said. “Like 14 hours in order to play a game, this is usually what they do in the NHL, right? … We just tried to keep the morale up and laugh it off even though it was really unacceptable, but you’ve just got to kind of play with what happens. ”

Beukeboom made 24 saves in the Wolves’ Game 1 win.

“Going into this I didn’t see any team that we couldn’t take on, whether it’s in the semis or the finals,” Beukeboom said. “We’ve got a great team, a really great team. A tight group of guys, I don’t think you see the group we have here very often in pro hockey and I’m sure any guy in that room will say that. But it’s been a fantastic experience for sure. ”

Watertown moves on to its third finals. The team won the league championship in both of its previous trips to the finals – in the team’s first season in the league in 2014-15 and then in 2017-18.

“It’s good, but obviously the job isn’t done,” MacDonald said. “But one team down and one more team to go. If we play well for the next 120 minutes, we win. ”

The regular-season champion Wolves will play open the finals at Columbus on Friday night. Game 2 will be played Saturday night in Watertown, and a third game, if necessary, will be played Sunday in Watertown.

Second-seeded Columbus swept Danbury in its semifinal series, winning the second game, 5-1, on Sunday night.

“This is the goal we had in mind at the end of the year, so we’re right on track, we’ve got two more games to go,” Mahfouz said. “We’ve got a big road trip to Columbus, I heard they got the job done there. We’re both on the same rest days and it’s going to be one hell of a series. ”

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