As Cape Cod battles to stay relevant in the Federal Hockey League, Dayton, the FHL's top team, quickly filled in on short notice to take on the Williamsport Outlaws at Airmen Pond.
Due to a relocation to Maine, the Bluefins were forced to cancel this weekend's games.
The Bluefins loss appeared to be the Outlaws' gain as Williamsport moved up in the FHL standings with a 4-3 win over Dayton at Airmen Pond at Bowman Field on Thursday night.
The win puts the Outlaws in second place, two points ahead of rival 1000 Islands.
"It was a good test for us tonight," Outlaws coach Chris Firriolo said. "We are the only team to beat them and we've done it twice."
Entering Thursday's game, the Outlaws were averaging 5.75 goals per contest. Although Williamsport fell under its average, scoring four goals, it received a dominant performance from the defense and goalie Chris Whitley, who stopped 44 of 47 shots he faced.
On his way to being named the Outlaws' third star of the game, Kevin Hamel anchored the defense by diving in front of shots and blocking potential shooters from getting clean looks in front of the net.
"It was a gritty effort on everybody's part," Firriolo said. "We keep getting better and better and soon enough we'll be at the top of the league."
Whitley, who stopped 44 shots, played a great second period. And when not receiving blocks from his defensemen, Whitley stopped 19 shots over the 20 minutes. No stop, though, was more impressive than a full-body extension glove save to deny a Jason Hill attempt in the final minutes of the period.
"We weathered the storm in the second and that's what good clubs do," Firriolo said. "We had that two-goal lead and then it went to a three-goal lead, but it was kind of a struggle. They scored a short-handed goal and that's going to happen and then they pull their goalie and chip away."
"Whitley stood on his head tonight," Matt Smyth said. "He won us that game tonight."
Dayton entered with the league's top two points earners in Jason Hill and Brayden Metz. The Outlaws Trevor Karasiewicz is third with 27 points in 17 games.
Both Dayton players were kept from registering a point as Williamsport's defense controlled the zone for most of the contest.
"Whitley made some huge saves," Hamel said. "As a defensive corps, we're playing great. Everybody has stepped up. We are blocking shots and playing strong."
The first period continued to be a good one for the Outlaws. And midway through Thursday's first 20 minutes, Chris Leveille took advantage of a sloppy power play by Dayton to score a short-handed goal.
"Chris Leveille has tremendous speed and read the play right," Firriolo said. "We try and tell the guys don't make moves and just shoot. He didn't try and make a move and the puck went into the back of the net."
The breakaway was set up when Hamel found Jeff Winchester, who in turn found a streaking Leveille for a quick one-goal lead. Winchester added a goal later in the period when he cut across the front of Dayton's goal for a quick tap-in score.
"I thought we played really well tonight," Firriolo said. "We had a great, great first period. It was probably the best first period we've played all season long."
"It was a huge break," Hamel said of the short-handed goal in the first period. "It's a huge boost for us. It's always good to score a short-handed goal."
Rob Sich added his fifth goal in two games when he put a one-timer past Jeff Rose for a second-period goal. The Outlaws managed only nine shots in the period, but Sich's effort kept the Demons at bay after an early power-play goal to open the period.
Dayton was called for its first penalty at 14:24 of the third period when Peter Cintala was booked for holding. Things continued to break for the Outlaws when Ty Ariss was ejected before the next face-off for arguing the call.
But, what appeared to be a break for the Outlaws, quickly became a momentum swing for Dayton as Luke Flicek puta Brian Marks feed past Whitley. The Outlaws managed to put a few shots on goal as the power play finished, but with Flicek pulling Dayton to within 4-2, the damage had been done.
The Outlaws had some extra motivation going into Thursday's game, as if a battle against the FHL's top team needed any extra inspiration. Williamsport entered the game trailing second-place 1000 Islands, a team the Outlaws crushed, 8-1 last Saturday, by a point.
Once Dayton pulled its goalie for the man advantage in the last minute, Whitley was forced into action. Dayton broke through to pull within a goal of tying, but Whitley continued to turn Dayton away and put the Outlaws into second place in the FHL standings.
"Chris Whitley was phenomenal tonight," Firriolo said. "It was a great effort. We just pulled ourselves into second place and if we can work hard over these next couple game we'll be just a few points away from first place."
Williamsport's Nick Vandenbeld was called for tripping just under the nine-minute mark of the first period, but the call ended up being a sort of blessing as Leveille controlled a Winchester pass for a short-handed goal.