Pair of wins puts Smiths Falls in line for eighth; Three point weekend moves Brockville into third
By Jeff Maguire
The playoff races at the top and the bottom of the Central Canada Hockey League appear set to go down to the wire with Smiths Falls Bears and Brockville Braves enjoying the most success this past weekend.
The arch rivals faced each other Friday in the Seaway City with Smiths Falls winning in overtime. Sunday both clubs were victorious with Bears securing a must win, doubling last place Gloucester Rangers 6-3. Braves took over sole possession of third place in the overall standings with a 4-1 triumph in Hawkesbury.
Brockville is just two points ahead of fourth place Carleton Place Canadians and they sit three behind second place Cornwall Colts. All three teams play in the highly competitive Robinson Division.
Meanwhile Kanata Stallions split their weekend outings to remain four points behind Smiths Falls in the scramble for the final post season berth. It’s possible that race will go down to the final two games of the campaign. The clubs face each other in Smiths Falls on Friday March 9 in the second last regular season game for both.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, it is unlikely anyone will want to face five-time defending CCHL champion Pembroke Lumber Kings in the first round of the playoffs!
Sunday Lumber Kings, who are also the defending national (Royal Bank Cup) champions, completed a weekend sweep over slumping Carleton Place Canadians. They edged the visitors 2-1, mainly thanks to the goaltending work of former Carleton Place net minder Francis Dupuis who has been the catalyst to their second half success. Dupuis kicked out 38 shots.
Heading into this week’s action Pembroke was tied with Hawkesbury for fifth place. Lumber Kings have won four in a row.
Not surprisingly first place Nepean Raiders had a relatively easy time against Kemptville 73’s Sunday, winning 7-3 to officially clinch the number one seed heading into the upcoming playoffs. Kemptville, the 11th place side, will miss the post season.
In Orleans Sunday afternoon the visiting Bears got a six point performance from right winger Matt Robertson who has been on fire lately. Robertson was in on all six goals including firing a hat trick. He solidified his hold on second place in the CCHL scoring race with 95 points, five up on Nepean winger Ryan MacLean.
Smiths Falls out shot the overmatched Rangers 41-27 and held period leads of 4-1 and 5-2. Left winger Connor McLaren added a goal and three helpers.
Gloucester scoring leader Michael McMurtry set up all three of his team’s markers to reach the 67 point mark. He stands 10th overall in the league.
Despite a good weekend, Smiths Falls’ head coach Mark Grady feels securing the final playoff position won’t be easy.
“There is still a long way to go to decide the last playoff spot,” he said Monday.
With five games remaining on their schedule, Stallions hold a game in hand on Smiths Falls.
“We played very well in Brockville Friday. I thought it was one of our best games of the season,” Grady says of the overtime win over Braves.
“We held them to under 30 shots (on goal).”
The veteran coach believes a strong work ethic is the answer for his Bears!
“We just have to keep working hard every game. This (season) is part of the learning curve for a young team.
“What happens happens. No matter how it turns out it won’t be from a lack of effort on the part of this team,” Grady promises.
The weekend wins broke a seven game slide for Smiths Falls, although three of those losses were by one goal and one came in a shootout.
Bears’ closed rivals Kanata, who enjoyed a good result less than 24 hours earlier, had a terrible afternoon against Cumberland Grads Sunday afternoon, falling 8-2 in Navan. Grads, who despite the win were only mathematically alive for the playoffs Monday, may have helped seal Stallions’ fate. Ironically Cumberland’s coaching staff includes assistant Justin Nistico, the son of Kanata general manager Lou Nistico.
Four unanswered goals in 10 minutes in the first period sealed the deal for Grads who got four goals and an assist from forward Eric Clitsome. He took over the club scoring lead with that performance!
Right winger Sean Bamford also had a five-point afternoon, including four helpers. Cumberland out shot Kanata 48-38 in the penalty-filled contest.
At the other end of the table, Nepean won their only game of the week in Kemptville Sunday afternoon, scoring three times in the second period to overcome 73’s and clinch first place overall in the CCHL.
Raiders displayed a balanced offence with seven different players scoring. League scoring leader Craig Cowie had a goal and one assist to reach 115 points. He is virtually uncatchable in that department!
Nepean defenceman Ryan Johnston continued his remarkable offensive campaign, ringing up four assists. He is the highest scoring blueliner in the CCHL with 68 points including 51 helpers. Johnston stood ninth on the league chart after Sunday’s action.
Jake Martin had a goal and one assist for Kemptville who lost their 47th game in 58 tries.
Also Sunday afternoon Brockville triumphed 4-1 over the Hawks in Hawkesbury despite being outshot 38-32. Andrew Pikul had another fine game between the pipes for Braves, blocking 37 shots.
Rookie left winger Owen Gill scored his first goal in five appearances at 6:49 of the second period. That proved to be the game winner. Mike DeBello set up a pair for the winners.
Playing in front of 1,443 home fans Sunday night, Pembroke again got a huge effort from goalie Dupuis to send Carleton Place to their sixth loss in 10 games. Liam Baird scored both goals for Lumber Kings less than three minutes apart in the second period.
Ben Murphy had a second period powerplay goal for Carleton Place and Canadians outshot the home team 39-27 but couldn’t find a way past former teammate Dupuis.
Three of Canadians’ recent defeats have been at the hands of the vastly improved Lumber Kings. Despite the weekend setbacks Carleton Place can finish no lower than fourth and with five games remaining they could still finish as high as second overall. They have a huge fixture against the Colts in Cornwall Thursday night. Colts currently hold second place in the Robinson Division and league standings.
The battle for playoff places continued on several fronts this past week.
Kanata 4 – Ottawa 1: Stallions’ playoff ambitions got a temporary boost when they overcame the previously red-hot Junior Senators Saturday night at Jim Durrell Recreation Complex. Kanata once again rode the strong goaltending of Brandon Lane. He turned aside 31 scoring tries as Sens held a 32-22 shots advantage. With the win Stallions moved within two points of Smiths Falls who hold the eighth and final playoff position. Recently arrived centre Jeff Stanton had two goals, one of which was shorthanded giving him nine points in 14 games. Stanton also set up defenceman Curtis Watson’s third period powerplay goal. Brent Bisdee had the other for the winners, also on a powerplay. Josh Pitt’s second period tally was the only reply for Ottawa.
Hawkesbury 2 – Kemptville 1: Hawks, who are hoping to grab fifth place in the final standings, had to work extra hard Friday to overcome the goaltending of 73’s veteran Travis Wilkins. The latter made 38 saves as the visitors out chanced Kemptville 40-18 in a penalty-marred contest. Three players from each team were ejected for fighting in a game in which 138 minutes in penalties were called, 77 of those going to Hawkesbury. When hockey was the issue Sebastian Meltzer scored both goals for Hawks, one late in period two and the other early in the final frame. Stevie Ray Adams came up with a powerplay marker in the final minute, with Wilkins on the bench in favour of a sixth attacker. It was too little too late!
Pembroke 5 – Carleton Place 2: Lumber Kings put a dent in Canadians’ hopes of catching Robinson Division leaders Cornwall, winning their third game in five starts against Carleton Place Friday night. It was very close territorially and only six penalties were called, four of those against Pembroke. Forwards Ben Dalpe, Tyler Gaudet and Geoff Gallagher had a goal and two assists each for the vastly improved Kings who are the story of the second half of the CCHL season. Three second period markers proved to be the difference. Pembroke clinched it with an empty netter by defenceman Zach Loesch with 21 seconds remaining. Brock Edwards had a goal and an assist in a losing cause.
Smiths Falls 3 – Brockville 2 (OT): Michael Buonincontri’s sixth goal in 28 appearances for Bears was the overtime winner as the visitors claimed a vital bonus point against Brockville. Friday’s clash was very even with most of the nearly 900 fans going home unhappy. Bears gained two points in their fight for the eighth and final playoff place.
Ottawa 10 – Gloucester 3: The improving Junior Senators all but clinched a playoff place, bombing the last place Rangers in Orleans Friday to record their fifth win in six games. Left winger Devon Rice took over the Ottawa scoring lead with an incredible five-goal performance, giving him a team high 31 markers. Sens peppered Gunner Rivers with 55 shots while Rangers could manage just 21. Centre Drew Anderson set up five for the winners while defenceman Joe Shecter had two goals and an assist. Right winger Travis Meyer netted once and helped out on another for Gloucester who slumped to their 45th loss in 57 games in what has been a rebuilding year for the club.
Brockville 3 – Cornwall 2: On Thursday night the race for second through fourth in the overall standings got tighter. Visiting Brockville earned a little success in their Highway 401 series with Cornwall, scoring three unanswered in the third period to upend the second place Colts. It was only the second win for Braves in what was the final game of six regular season meetings with Cornwall. The opening stanza was scoreless but Michael Borkowski and Tylor Spink gave Colts a two goal advantage with second period strikes. Braves’ Kenny Matheson made it 2-1 early in the final frame and Mike DeBello tied it just past the midway mark. David Ferreira triggered an unassisted goal, with only 24 seconds left in regulation, to win it.
Cornwall 6 – Ottawa 4: Playing before more than 900 home fans Tuesday, Colts rode the goaltending of Matt Jenkins to victory over a frustrated Junior Senators’ squad. Ottawa outshot Cornwall 34-19 but were continually shutdown by Jenkins who serves as back-up to Lukas Hafner, the league’s top goaltender by statistic. Four first period goals on just eight shots, two of them by winger Roman Ammirato, proved to be the difference. Tyson Spink took over Colts’ scoring lead with a hat trick and one assist. His final tally was into the empty Ottawa cage with 38 seconds left. Twin brother Tylor set up four goals. Josh Pitt and Kevin Ryder had a goal and one assist each for Sens.
Hawkesbury 6 – Kanata 3: Stallions sagging playoff hopes suffered another blow Tuesday with a home ice loss to the rapidly accelerating Hawks. The win was Hawkesbury’s ninth in 10 outings. Kanata fell for the seventh time in 10 starts. Hawks’ scoring leader Stephen Hrehoriak, a Stittsville resident, topped the 60 point mark with two goals and an assist. He moved into 15th place on the CCHL chart. The visitors led 3-1 and 4-1 at the intervals, outshooting Kanata 39-26.
Jeff Maguire is a career journalist who lives in Carleton Place. He has covered junior hockey in Ontario for 40 years. Jeff’s feature story will appear on the CCHL website every Monday. He can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org