Article By Sam Laskaris/Photos by Chris Archer & N. Schoonderbeek
The Clarington Eagles have clinched a spot in their divisional final.
But the Eagles will have to wait a bit before it is determined who they will square off against in the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Orr Division final.
The Clarington squad earned its ticket to the final by registering a 3-2 victory over the visiting North Kawartha Knights on Tuesday in a match staged at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex.
Clarington rookie forward Nate Stirling netted a pair of goals on Tuesday. He opened the scoring with a late first-period goal.
And Stirling also scored the game-winner by being in the right place at the right time, with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period.
Stirling was rewarded on the series-clinching goal for his workmanlike efforts as the puck hit his stick following a shot from blueliner Carter Watkins.
“I happened to put my stick in the lane and beat the goalie between the legs,” Stirling said. “I didn’t see it coming. I just put my stick on the ice and was driving hard to the net, trying to take their far D away and happened to get a stick on it at the end of it. I felt it hit hard. It was a pretty good shot by Watty. Luckily it rolled in and squeaked through.”
Watkins certainly didn’t mind who was credited with the winner.
“As long as it went in, that’s all we needed was to get the goal lead and to get us the win here tonight,” he said.
For a while it appeared the Knights just might be able to extend the series and host a Game 6.
The North Kawartha squad netted a pair of second-period goals and led 2-1 after 40 minutes of action.
It wasn’t until past the midway point of the third period that Eagles’ rookie forward Hayes Bell tied the score at 2-2. For Bell it was his first goal of the post-season.
“We talked about taking the puck to the net and being a man, not settling for a shot on a bad angle,” said Eagles’ coach Dean Baumhauer. “And on that goal, he took it to the net like a big boy and jammed in a beaut. The biggest goal of his career I bet.”
Had they managed to hang on for the win, the Knights would have hosted the next game in the series on Thursday.
“We really didn’t want to go back up there,” Baumhauer said. “I didn’t think we were at our best. I knew North Kawartha was going to be hard to put out. The elimination game is always the toughest. They’re a proud group of guys down there and some good hockey players.
“They showed up and worked hard and were probably the better team for two periods. And we were fighting the puck a little bit I thought for two periods.”
Baumhauer was obviously pleased his charges were able to rally back and score twice in the final 20 minutes.
“We proved that we could come back and close the deal and close out a good team,” he said.
Considering what was on the line, it was somewhat surprising to see the Eagles have their share of struggles throughout the match.
“We just didn’t have much energy,” Watkins said. “We came out really flat and it was really quiet. We didn’t come in with that intensity that we needed to beat them. No team is just going to let us knock them out of playoffs. They’re going to come in with their best game. So, we didn’t really match that until the third period.”
Stirling offered up a similar line of thinking.
“I think the boys were just gripping the sticks a little too tight,” he said. “We went up 1-0 there and kind of thought it would be enough. But they battled back hard. And we fought back in the third to make sure we got the job done and finished it here tonight.”
The Merchants lead that best-of-seven affair 3-1 and will host Game 5 on Thursday.
“It doesn’t matter who we meet in the final,” Stirling said. “We’re going to treat it the same way we treat every series and we’re going to make sure we get the points that we need to win.”
Watkins also said the Eagles have more that they would like to accomplish during their 2022 playoff run.
“Obviously we’re happy about knocking out a good team here,” he said. “But obviously we want to keep going. We’ll enjoy this one here tonight and then get ready for the next one coming up.”
Additional Game Photos by Chris Archer: