Bounces going Petes' way

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

When they say that's the way the puck bounces at the Peterborough Memorial Centre, they aren't kidding.

It bounces, caroms, ricochets and it didn't bounce the London Knights' way yesterday as the Peterborough Petes, for the second time in the two games of their best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League final, won in overtime, this time 4-3.

In a series that could hardly be closer, it makes a difference, although backup goaltender Steve Mason smoothed out many of the erratic movements of the puck with a solid game after he was told an hour before the opening faceoff he'd be replacing the injured Adam Dennis.

"I played a triple A tournament here so I knew a bit about it," Mason said after drawing his first playoff start. "It's almost 90 degrees in the corners so there are some tough bounces from there."

Peterborough's Corral of Crazy Caroms is like a pinball game with square bumpers, the corners only slightly rounded to present some semblance of a normal hockey rink. Who said size doesn't matter?

The Memorial Centre's 195-foot length is only five shorter than the John Labatt Centre but the sharp corners can turn it into a geometric nightmare. It's as though somebody clipped five feet off near the ends of the rink and had to tighten up the corners to do it.

"It takes about a year for a player to get used to them," a former Petes coach and Belleville scout said.

The weird bounces from the corners at both ends -- last night's dozen were a few more than average, according to those who follow the Petes -- favour the home team.

For the goalie, it's a bad dream. As he goes behind the net to intercept a hard-around, the puck's circular route can change to a bounce right into the slot. A lucky forechecker suddenly has an empty net facing him.

None of last night's goals were scored that way but enough routine shots around the boards came out into the hot zone to present chances.

"You have to be extra-careful," Mason said. "At the JLC, the boards kind of cushion the puck. Here, you have to pay a lot of attention to the boards the pucks that come off them. It makes you more hesitant to play the puck."

Defenders of the curious configuration -- including owners who would go on a diet of old pucks before eliminating any revenue-producing seats -- argue it's part of the rink's allure, like Fenway Park's Green Monster or the azaleas at the Masters golf. Truth is, it's like playing snooker on a warped table.

The likelihood of the OHL demanding conformity to the rest of the hockey world is about as great as the junior league asking that visiting columnists get a seat after driving four hours to the game. OK, Ernest Hemingway typed novels standing up but he was fortified by a high-octane potable.

Knights coach Dale Hunter railed at the rails himself by suggesting a few shekels from the $10 million renovation to the place might have been devoted to boards that might be more suited to a barn. As a farmer, he's an authority on barns.

"It was a tough way to lose a game after the way we fought and with the bad calls but it's definitely going to give us something to work for and come back and win this series," Mason said.

The statistics reflect how evenly matched the teams are. Peterborough, of course, won on the last shot, their 37th to the Knights' 36.

Whatever, the Knights have to win tomorrow night at home to step back from the brink of elimination. And they have to get a few bounces in the Crazy Carom Corral here Thursday.


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