Article by Sam Laskaris/Photos by Chris Archer
The Clarington Eagles were able to defeat a key divisional rival in their return to action on Saturday thanks to a pair of third-period goals.
The Eagles downed the host Little Britain Merchants 3-1 in a Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) match.
It was the first game for the Clarington side since Dec. 30. The more than five-week break between games was due to the provincial restrictions on some sporting events, necessitated by the rising number of COVID cases during the ongoing pandemic.
Besides picking up a pair of crucial points, with the victory, the Eagles were able to give themselves a little more space atop the standings of the PJHL’s Orr Division.
Clarington improved its record to 17-5-0-2 and now has 36 points, three more than the second-place Little Britain squad, which saw its mark drop to 16-5-0-1.
Had the Merchants emerged victorious in Saturday’s outing, staged at the Little Britain Community Centre, they would now be sitting atop the divisional standings.
The Merchants had also played on Friday night, edging the host Georgina Ice 4-3.
Since their season was put on pause, the Eagles only had two practices this past week, on Tuesday and Thursday.
“We just sort of wanted to get through the first period and keep it simple,” said Eagles’ head coach Dean Baumhauer.
Clarington managed to do just that as they went into the opening intermission deadlocked at 1-1 with the Merchants.
Eagles’ forward Brady Darrach opened the scoring in the fourth minute of action. The Merchants then netted what proved to be their only goal of the evening late in the first.
Clarington outshot Little Britain 35-26 in the game.
Eagles’ star netminder Alex Lepizzera, who earned the W between the pipes, said his squad indeed showed its rustiness from the lengthy break early on. His teammates displayed some uncharacteristic defensive lapses.
“I faced three breakaways in the first period,” Lepizzera said. “So that kind of says it all.”
Clarington forward Brent Lace scored the game-winner at the 8:49 mark of the third period while the Eagles were on a powerplay.
Darrach then scored his second of the game, an empty-net goal, with exactly a minute left in the outing, to seal the victory.
“It was a great game, back and forth from both teams,” Lepizzera added.
“We were able to shut them down,” Baumhauer said.
Clarington’s defensive prowess was especially on display in the third period when the club managed to kill off a pair of penalties at key moments in the match.
“I think it’s huge coming back from a five-week break to be able to be effective and play a solid game all around against a team like Little Britain,” said Eagles’ rookie defenceman Ethan Schoonderbeek. “Hopefully it sets the tone for the rest of the season leading into the playoffs.”
The Eagles now have eight contests remaining in their regular season schedule.
Schoonderbeek said his teammates realized they would face a stiff challenge in their first game back.
“It was obviously a little difficult jumping back into play against an opponent like Little Britain,” he added. “But I thought we caught our rhythm early and really got on top of them later on.”
The Eagles’ next game is this coming Thursday (Feb. 10). Clarington will host the Uxbridge Bruins at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex.
The opening faceoff is set for 7:20 p.m.