The Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) final between the Strait Pirates and Sackville Blazers is knotted up at a game apiece, after each team recorded victories on the road.
The Blazers struck first, winning 3-1 at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre (PHCC), April 5, despite being outshot 39-25.
Sackville goaltender Justin Sumarah was steady and, at times, spectacular, as he has been for the majority of the NSJHL playoffs, in helping the Blazers reach the finals. Sumarah was especially good as the Blazers upset the East Hants Penguins in the Fred Fox Division final, earning them the showdown with the Sid Rowe Division winners from Port Hawkesbury.
Pirates’ veteran forward Randon MacKinnon scored his team’s only goal in the last minute of the second period, on assists from Devin Sceles and Joshua MacMillan, which tied the game; only to see the Blazers score two unanswered third period goals to claim the win.
On Monday (April 8) night in Sackville, the Pirates returned the favour and went one step further by shutting out the Blazers behind Cody Smith’s 32 saves. The Strait fired 48 pucks at Sumarah with three of them finding the back of the net.
Port Hood’s Olan Spears scored twice for the Pirates with Austin Woodland scoring the other Strait goal. Assists went to Jacob Keagan, Christian Papineau and Sebastian Vella.
“We eliminated our mistakes,” Pirates head coach Taylor Lambke said when asked about the difference between the games.
“I thought Friday night we were the better team, for the majority of the game, but we made three mistakes; we gave one away at centre ice, we got beat on a defensive zone face-off, and we were caught pinching on a play we shouldn’t pinch on. But if we play that way for the whole series [minus the mistakes] and bury our chances, we’ll be fine.
“Last night, we locked it down defensively and said, ‘we’ll get our opportunities, we just have to bury them when we do,’ and we did a good job of it,” the second-year Pirate coach, and 2018-19 NSJHL coach of the year, said.
As for whether the two games have changed his mind on what he expected from the Blazers and series, Lambke said “not really.”
“We just want to make sure we’re hungry around the net; Sumarah will stop the first shot the majority of the time, so we want to be sure we have guys going to the net for rebounds and secondary chances. But that really hasn’t changed from the whole playoffs; I thought that was the same in the first series [versus Antigonish] and second one [versus Jr. Miners] as well, now we’re just going to have to keep rolling for the third series here.
“After two games, we’re happy with our effort, with a lot of the things we did. I thought in game one we just made a few mistakes and if we can eliminate those, we’ll be fine.”
Lambke finished by noting, while it’s a well-used cliché, the Pirates’ approach all season has been to take each game one at a time, and that hasn’t changed.
“We focus on the game that is coming up next and make sure we’re ready for that,” he said.
“If we win game three on Saturday night, we put a lot of pressure on them for game four back in Sackville Monday. So that’s what we’re looking to do; but it’s about making sure we take care of our game and are ready to go Saturday night.”
The game at the PHCC was scheduled for Friday – the Pirates’ regular home-game night – but has been changed to Saturday, with the regular 7:30 p.m. puck-drop time.