Article by Sam Laskaris/Photos by Chris Archer & N. Schoonderbeek
If members of the Clarington Eagles can find a way to taste victory once more on Sunday they will forever be Schmalz Cup champions.
That’s right. The Eagles are one win away from the Ontario Junior C hockey title and hoisting the Schmalz Cup, awarded to the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) champs.
The Eagles will meet the Lakeshore Canadiens in Sunday’s final, scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Gryphon Centre.
The Canadiens advanced to the final thanks to a 5-0 triumph over the Grimsby Peach Kings in Saturday’s other semi-final.
“Our guys are believing they are going to win this thing,” said Eagles’ head coach Dean Baumhauer, who doubles as the club’s general manager. “Whether we do or not, them believing in it is what you need. Their confidence is high.”
Both the Eagles and Canadiens posted 2-1 records in round-robin action at the Final Four tourney.
Clarington did manage to defeat Lakeshore 4-1 in the final round-robin match for both teams, held this past Thursday (May 12) in Guelph.
“This is the whole reason we came here was to win this whole thing,” Eagles’ defenceman Carter Watkins said following Saturday’s victory. “So, we’ll be ready to go (on Sunday).”
The Siskins had blanked the Eagles 3-0 in their tournament opener on May 7 in Stayner. Members of the Clarington squad knew they had underperformed in that outing and were looking to avenge the loss on Saturday.
“We had a feeling they wouldn’t take us as serious because of last game thinking we’re not that good so we thought we could get them with an element of surprise, coming out quick on them and catching them off guard,” Watkins said. “I think we did a good job of that scoring two early.”
Watkins also got in on the scoring, netting his first post-season goal, which restored the Eagles’ two-lead lead after the Siskins had cut the deficit to 2-1 with an early shorthanded goal in the second.
“I hadn’t scored since December,” Watkins said. “It felt good to get the first playoff goal and help the team get some momentum and get the job done.”
Clarington rookie forward Owen Manarin also popped in a second-period goal to round out the scoring.
Watkins added he’s confident the Eagles can defeat the Canadiens on Sunday.
“We know we have to bring our A game,” he said. “And I think our A game beats their A game in the finals.”
“When all four lines are going we’re unbeatable,” said Eagles’ rookie forward Hayes Bell, who earned three assists and was named as the MVP of Saturday’s contest. “We expect production from our top line but when all four lines are going we’re unbeatable. When production is coming all the way from one to four, you can’t be beat.”
Bell was certainly inspired to play well on Saturday. He was not in Baumhauer’s good books after Thursday’s match against Lakeshore, in part because he was assessed a pair of offensive zone penalties.
“He played a little joke on me at (Friday’s) practice,” Bell said of the Eagles’ bench boss. “He put me on the fourth line and pretty much told me I was going to be scratched (Saturday). And then after practice he came up and told me I was going back with my line.
“It was funny but I was a little bit pissed off at practice. It definitely lit a fire under my ass and I got it done today. I can’t complain.”
Count Bell among those who are confident the Eagles have one more victory left in them this season.
“We’re not losing now,” he said. “We’ve made it this far. We’ve beat these guys before. We know what they are.”