Clarington Eagles are 2022-23 Orr Division Champs

Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Media by C. Archer

For the second time in as many years, the Clarington Eagles have taken home the Cougar Cup.

Adam Klaas scored 2:15 into overtime Tuesday night to give the Eagles a 3-2 victory over the Uxbridge Bruins. After a four-game sweep, the Eagles are once again the PJHL Orr Division Champions.

The Eagles, who are a perfect 12-0 in the playoffs this season, have now qualified for the PJHL Eastern Conference championship. They await the outcome of the Tod Division final between the Port Hope Panthers and the Picton Pirates. Port Hope currently leads that best of seven series three games to one.

Offence didn’t come easily for either club in the contest.

Clarington got on the scoreboard just over five minutes into the first period when Leyton Aitken banged in a rebound on the powerplay from Hayes Bell and Cole Williamson.

The Eagles’ one goal cushion held up for the next 45 minutes of play, with neither team seemingly able to find their groove offensively.

Uxbridge was able to finally solve Clarington starter Marc-Olivier Robert at the midway point of the third period. A shooter was allowed to walk into the faceoff circle unimpeded and fire a high shot over the Robert’s shoulder to draw the Bruins even at one.

Clarington didn’t waste much time restoring their lead. A minute and a half after the Bruins had tied the score, Adam Klaas picked up the puck in the neutral zone and drove hard to the net with a burst of speed. Klaas was hauled down on the drive but was still able to direct the puck into the crease on his way down. The puck somehow found its way through the Uxbridge goalkeeper.

“I have no idea how it went in,” said Klaas. “I got tripped up and just tried to shove the puck towards the net. When I looked up, the ref was pointing goal.”

The Bruins were not about to go away easily. With six minutes to play, they took advantage of a fortunate bounce when the puck hopped over a Clarington defenders stick. The mis-queue allowed an Uxbridge attacker to walk in alone on Robert and tie the game up at two, forcing overtime.

The Eagles came out for the extra frame ready to play. Two minutes in, winger Jordan Shaw stopped a clearing attempt in the Bruins zone and worked the puck into the corner. Shaw cycled puck to Bell who took it hard to the net. Bell’s initial effort was stopped, but Klaas was waiting at the top of the crease to poke the loose puck through the Uxbridge keeper to secure the win.

Klaas, who had been struggling to find his scoring touch recently, picked an opportune time to get back on the scoresheet again. “It’s not easy playing four games in six nights,” Adam said. “Some of our lines were having trouble connecting. But it was greasy goals and getting to the net and banging in loose pucks that worked. It was a hard-fought win.”

“Klaaser has been fighting it a bit lately, so for him to get the second and third goals should boost his confidence,” said head Coach Dean Baumhauer.

“A second-place team that’s down 3-0 is going to play desperate. Uxbridge played us tough,” Baumhauer continued. “I didn’t think we played particularly well today. We had several powerplay opportunities where we should have been able to put them away. But you’re going to be tested mentally at this level. And that game was a good test for us. You’re not going to win every game 5-2.”

The Eagles’ depth has proven to be a key advantage so far in their playoff run, with different players stepping up each night to have major impacts to the club’s success. It’s a luxury most teams in the league don’t always have. Baumhauer will be looking for increased productivity from a couple of the team’s stars heading into the Conference Final.

“One thing that must happen moving forward is Manning and Darrach are going to have to step up and play like our best players,” Dean said. “Every coach in the league knows who they are. They were the top scorer and MVP of the division. Every game they’re going to get checked tight. They’re going to get punched, slashed, hooked, chopped and they’ve got to find a way to play through it. Good players find a way to play through a tough matchup, and I’m confident they will.”

For assistant coach Jamie Showers it was a bittersweet victory. Showers was part of the Bruins coaching staff before joining the Eagles organization this season. “I’ve got a lot of friends and longtime relationships here,” said Jamie. “Much like the Eagles alumni that surrounds and supports our team, the Bruins organization has that same sense of community. I’m happy to now be a strong part of both. It’s a nice feeling to win tonight. There are some guys on that team I’ve coached and their junior careers came to an end today. I’m glad it was a hard-fought game right to the end.”