PORT HAWKESBURY and ANTIGONISH, N.S. - A few days before their first-round Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League playoff series, the head coaches of the first-place Strait Pirates and fourth-place Antigonish Farmers’ Mutual Junior Bulldogs were singing a similar tune.
“I think, first of all, we want to worry about our game; make sure we’re playing the way we want to play,” Pirates head coach Taylor Lambke said.
“For them, they have some fire power up front, so we’re going to want to manage the puck in the neutral zone; make sure we’re getting pucks deep, not turning over any pucks in the neutral zone, which they could take advantage offensively.
“Overall though, we’re going to focus on our game; make sure we manage the puck and make it hard on them defensively.”
Bulldogs head coach Dave Synishin was also emphasizing a focus on what his team needs to do well.
“Really, the emphasis for us is not about them, because we know what they can do – they’re a good hockey team; it’s about us playing well defensively,” Synishin said.
“It has been that way all year long. Last night was another case in point where we got away from playing defensively,” he added, referencing Antigonish’s final regular season game, a 4-1 loss to the Pictou County Scotians in Trenton, Feb. 25, which dropped the Bulldogs to fourth and set-up their meeting with the Pirates.
“The only chance to get past these guys is by playing well defensively.”
With their very impressive 29-2-1 (overtime loss) record, the Strait secured first place in the Sid Rowe Division, and first overall in the league, even before the regular season stretch drive, when most other teams were intensely jockeying for playoff positions. Lambke said his team is eager to start the second-season.
“Overall, we’re excited to get the playoffs going,” he said.
“We’ve been itching to get at it for a couple of weeks now. We had a good practice this week and I’m sure the boys will be ready to go Friday night.”
Synishin noted his team got a little “banged up” in their game versus the Scotians but, added, “we’ll be alright.”
“We have to play with some grit, some sandpaper; that can make a difference for us,” he said, following his team’s Tuesday evening practice at the Antigonish Arena.
Game one in the best of seven series between the bitter and long-standing rivals goes Friday (March 1) at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
Game two in the series is Sunday evening at the Antigonish Arena, also with a 7:30 p.m. start.
Games three is back in Port Hawkesbury Tuesday evening (7:30 puck-drop) and game four is at the arena Thursday, starting at 7 p.m.
Games five, six and seven, if necessary, would be played Friday (March 8), Sunday (March 10) and Tuesday (March 12).
Both coaches noted they anticipate the fact they’re facing their arch-rival, to bring out the best in their team and fans.
“Everyone has been talking about who will see in the first round and, for me, I love seeing Port Hawkesbury for that specific reason,” Synishin said.
“As the season progressed and we kept winning games, more and more people kept coming out and realizing they have a good team, an exciting team to cheer for,” Lambke said.
“So we’re hoping to have a great crowd on Friday; hoping everyone comes out and supports us.”
In the other Sid Rowe Division series, the Kameron Jr. Miners went up 1-0 on the Scotians with a shutout victory Wednesday night in Membertou.