After a grueling seven games versus their arch-rivals, the Antigonish Farmers’ Mutual Junior Bulldogs, in round one, the Strait Pirates made quick work of the defending league/provincial and Atlantic junior ‘B’ champions in round two, ousting the Membertou-based Kameron Jr. Miners in a four-game sweep.
The Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) Sid Rowe Division champs now await the winner of the Fred Fox Division final between the East Hants Penguins and Sackville Blazers, which the Penguins led 2-1 going into game four Monday (March 25) evening in Sackville.
Joshua MacMillan was the hero for the Pirates in their game four win versus the Miners, which took place March 23 in Membertou. MacMillan scored twice, including the winner with only two seconds on the clock, while adding an assist on veteran Randon MacKinnon’s second period goal. MacKinnon also recorded an assist in the win.
Taylor Pierce scored the Pirates’ other marker while Devin Sceles picked up two assists and single assists went to Branden Dauphinee, Josh Foster and captain Matthew Morgan.
Pirate goaltender Cody Smith, who had two shutouts to start the series, made 31 saves in the 4-3 win. Smith also shutout the Bulldogs in game seven, meaning he went a very impressive three games without allowing a goal.
“We kind of learned how to win in the playoffs in the first round and carried it into this series; I thought we played four solid games and deserve to be moving on,” Strait head coach Taylor Lambke said.
He was referring to playing hard on both sides of the puck and being rewarded. Although it was a sweep, the Miners displayed the grit and determination of a defending champ, including a game being decided 1-0 (game two) and another in overtime (game three, Avery Warner scoring the winner; his second OT goal of the playoffs).
“I thought it started with our defensive play; we shut things down defensively … we made it hard for them to create chances,” Lambke said.
“They have a lot of skilled, offensive players and I thought we made it hard for them to get inside, get secondary opportunities and good, quality scoring chances; and, when they did, we had Cody Smith there backstopping us. So it was hard for them to score goal; I thought we did a good job taking care of our own end.
“And we did a good job creating chances. Kaine Drake is a good goalie for them and we had to create some traffic, score some ugly goals.”
Playing both ends of the ice equally well will be needed in the NSJHL final as well. Lambke pointed out one team’s strength is offence (East Hants) while the others is defence (Sackville).
“It’s going to go how it’s going to go, you can’t really control who it is, so we’ll, kind of, prepare for both teams,” he said.
“The only tough part is the teams are complete opposites; one is a high offensive team and the other a solid defensive team, so you have to be aware of both sides of the puck. We’ve won games a bunch of different ways all year; whether it’s a tight 3-2 or 2-1 game, or a 7-6 game, I think we have the ability to adjust.
“For us, we want to make sure we’re taking care of our own end defensively and playing solidly that way; managing the puck in the neutral zone and burying our chances when we get them. If it’s East Hants, we’ll make it tough on their offensive players to generate chances and, if it’s Sackville, then it will be a good two-way series and we’ll try and generate as many chances as we can.”
As for having a few extra days to prepare after their sweep of the Miners, Lambke said the best part is time made available for the Pirates’ student-athletes.
“We’re not too banged up injury-wise, but one of the helpful things being done early is that some of the guys can now catch-up on school work and stay ahead of where they’re at when it comes to exams and things like that,” he said. “Once the finals start, it will roll-on pretty quick, so it gives them a little extra time to get some studying in as we prepare for the finals.”
The Pirates claimed three major NSJHL awards, which were announced recently.
Lambke, who is from Antigonish, was named coach of the year; Smith took home top goalie and the team's executive, led be Tim MacMillan, was named top executive in the league.