The Antigonish Farmers’ Mutual Junior Bulldogs are heading down the home stretch in the race for a playoff spot in the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League.
“It is about being consistent throughout. It’s the old cliché – taking it one game at a time, but that’s certainly what we have to do,” Bulldog head coach Richard MacKenzie told the Casket, as his team prepared for its final four regular season games, which were scheduled over a nine-day period.
As of press time, Antigonish was second in the Sid Rowe Division, trailing the league-leading Kameron Junior Miners, who clinched top spot a while ago, with the Strait Pirates, Pictou County Scotians and Cumberland County Blues all within striking distance.
The top four teams in each division make the playoffs.
Antigonish native Brandon MacDonald made 23 saves as the Scotians defeated the Bulldogs 4-0, Jan. 31, at the Antigonish Arena.
“An awful start, especially this time of year, you can’t come out of the gate like that. I didn’t think that we had much jump,” MacKenzie said.
“I don’t know what it was – maybe the guys were affected a little bit by the few guys that were missing out of the line-up, but certainly the approach wasn’t good from our guys – mentally and physically.”
The Scotians carried play in the first period, taking a 2-0 edge to the locker room.
Early in the second period, the Bulldogs had an opportunity to slice the lead in half, on the power play, but they came up empty. The best chance came from defenseman Brian MacDougall, but MacDonald turned away his point blast with the right pad.
The Bulldogs continued to press, with Riley Scott streaking to the net and testing MacDonald, but the puck teetered on the goal line before the goaltender smothered it.
Later in the middle stanza, Shawn Long was left alone in the slot, but MacDonald made a sparkling save on the Bulldog forward’s hard shot.
Early in the third period, the Bulldogs continued their push to get on the scoreboard, but less than five minutes into the frame the visitors made it 3-0.
Seconds later, MacDougall glided into the Scotian zone and ripped a blast off the goal post behind MacDonald.
The Scotians sealed the deal with another tally in the final five minutes.
“We did get better, but it was a case of it being too little too late,” MacKenzie said.
He noted the Bulldogs must play better in all facets – both offensively and defensively.
“I thought out goaltending was good last night, so that wasn’t an issue, but everything needed to be better in the first, and it has to be for the rest of the season,” MacKenzie said.
Bulldog goalie Charles Jensen made 20 saves in the loss.
Sink the Pirates
On the strength of four unanswered goals, including three in the second period, the Bulldogs skated to a 6-2 victory over the rival Strait Pirates, Jan. 29, on home ice.
“When you manage to score six goals, you are, obviously, playing well,” MacKenzie said of that match-up.
Logan DeYoung, on the power play, opened the scoring for the Bulldogs, on assists from Tyler van Oirschot and Long.
Mitch Warner tied the match-up for the Pirates, on assists from Morgan Timmons and Jaron Bollivar.
The Bulldogs regained the edge, when Riley Scott tallied from Josh Cunningham and Keith Leadbeater.
Before the end of the first period, Stephen Sisco collected the equalizer, from Troy Hillier and Floyd MacDonald.
In the opening two minutes of the second period, Giovanni Akeson scored what turned out to be the game-winner, on assists from Long and DeYoung.
Taylor Leger, from Patrik MacIsaac, doubled the Bulldog lead.
Matthew Laing, from Anthony Sharp and Andrew Boyle, gave Antigonish a 5-2 advantage after two periods.
MacDougall, from Giordano Saputo and Brendan Richards, scored the lone goal of the third period.
Jesse Gillis made 24 saves for the win, while Matthew Stymest steered aside 24 shots in the loss.
Back on the ice
The Bulldogs and Pirates renewed their rivalry Feb. 3.
Antigonish completed a three-game-in-four-night grind with match-ups versus the Cumberland County Blues (Feb. 5) and the Scotians (Feb. 6.)
Results of those games were unavailable at press time.
The Bulldogs will wrap up the regular season Saturday, Feb. 11, when they travel to Membertou to face the Kameron Junior Miners.
Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m.