Article by I. Schoonderbeek & N. Schoonderbeek/Media by N. Schoonderbeek
It was not the way they hoped their season would end.
In the Provincial Junior Hockey League, for 59 of the 60 teams the season ultimately ends in disappointment. That disappointment is amplified based on how deep teams progress in the post-season. For the second straight year, the Clarington Eagles have now had to endure the heartbreak of coming out on the wrong side of the score in the final game of the season.
The team gave a valiant effort, including a hard push in the final minutes of the Schmalz Cup final Sunday afternoon in Woodstock. However, they ultimately came up a goal short in a 3-2 Wellesley Applejacks victory.
The game was a close checking affair from the opening puck drop. After a scoreless first period, Wellesley jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the second.
The Applejacks entered the Clarington zone on an odd man rush and a pass out from the corner found a Wellesley shooter far post. The Eagles’ back checker on the play managed to get his stick on the shot attempt, but that only served to tip the puck over the outstretched glove of Clarington starter Marc-Olivier Robert.
The two teams continued to grind their way through the second period until Adam Klaas pulled Clarington even with five minutes to play. The big winger showed excellent poise with the puck after a scramble in front of the Wellesley net before snapping a shot past the Applejacks netminder.
Klaas opens scoring for the Eagles:
Unfortunately, Clarington didn’t have long to ride the momentum of the Klaas goal. A turnover behind the Eagles’ net with two minutes to play in the second was quickly stuffed behind a shocked Robert to restore the one-goal lead for Wellesley heading into the second intermission.
Early in the third, Wellesley extended their lead to 3-1. An Applejacks skater rushed the puck into the Clarington zone before jumping past an Eagles defender and unleashing a perfect shot from the slot that beat Robert.
Those who have followed the Eagles over the past two seasons know they are not the type of team that gives up easily. They continued to press the attack in the third, looking to claw their way back into the game.
Clarington came close to getting one back midway through the third. With the Eagles on the powerplay, a Dawson Manning point shot found its way through a screen in front of the Wellesley goal. The captain’s shot found the wrong side of the post and rang off the bar wide.
With six and a half minutes to play and a faceoff to the right of the Wellesley goal, Hayes Bell won a draw cleanly to Owen Manarin. Manarin’s first shot attempt was blocked by an Applejacks defender. But the puck bounced back to the winger for another chance, which he one-timed top shelf to narrow the gap to 3-2.
The Eagles came within inches of tying the game with just over three minutes to play when defenseman Ryan Hall deked a Wellesley forward at the offensive blueline and snapped a hard wrist shot on goal. Unfortunately, his shot rang off the post and out of play.
Hall shot hits the post late in the third period:
Clarington generated several goalmouth scramble opportunities in the dying minutes of the contest but were unable to score the equalizer.
“We fought to the end,” said head coach Dean Baumhauer. “It stinks to lose on the last day of the season. At the end of the day, they’re a great group of boys and they didn’t quit. We’ve been to the final two years in a row. That’s two really good runs. We hit two or three posts in the third period…if those go in it’s a different game. We just didn’t have any puck luck today, and that happens in this sport. I’m proud of them regardless. They’re a group of kids that bought in from the get-go. We had a bunch of new bodies coming in from different levels of hockey and they all bought in and came together as a team. We were hard to play against. Wellesley knew they were getting a good hockey game from us today. It was a good year.”
For team owner and president Kirk Kemp, back-to-back appearances in the Schmalz Cup final in his first two seasons since taking over the club is something to be proud of. A compassionate leader, Kirk spent time down at the ice congratulating and consoling the disappointed players and bench staff after the game drew to a close.
“It sucks to lose,” remarked Kirk, who recognized that this game could easily have had a different outcome. “You can’t ask for any more. A one-goal game. They took it right to them in the last half of the third period and they hit a few posts. They gave it their best. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
So will we get a consecutive three-peat chance in the Schmalz Cup final to bring it home?
“100%,” Kirk concluded.