Article By Sam Laskaris/Photos by Chris Archer
It remains to be seen just how much longer the Clarington Eagles’ current post-season will last.
What is certain, however, is that once the playoff run is over, it will also mark the end of the line for the four Clarington overage players, who are in their final season of junior eligibility.
The Eagles’ overagers are goaltender Alex Lepizzera, forward Brent Lace and defencemen Mitch Doyle, who is the team’s captain, and Nate Baumhauer, whose father Dean is the head coach/general manager of the Clarington squad.
Clarington’s overagers and their teammates are hoping their 2021-22 campaign is capped off by winning the Schmalz Cup, the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) championship, in May.
The Eagles are currently gearing up for their PJHL Orr Division best-of-seven semi-final series, which begins on Tuesday (Mar. 22) against the North Kawartha Knights.
The eventual Orr Division champs will square off against the PJHL’s Tod Division winners in a best-of-seven series to determine who advances to the provincial Final Four tournament in May.
Lepizzera is hoping his competitive hockey career continues beyond this season. He’s hoping to use his contacts in an attempt to land a spot with a club in a minor pro circuit in North America or possibly a pro club at any level in Europe.
But he doesn’t want to look too far ahead now.
“I’m focused on the second round and then the third round and then the fourth round and then the Schmalz Cup,” said the diminutive puckstopper who is nicknamed Leppy.
Though he also played on squads with Lace before joining the Eagles, Lepizzera has been teammates with Doyle and Baumhauer the majority of his career.
“We’ve been together for about 15 years,” Lepizzera said. “We’re so comfortable around each other. We’re all tighter than anything. It’s awesome to be playing with those guys.”
As for a career highlight thus far, Lepizzera said that occurred during his Atom season when his Clarington club won its league – the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) title – and then went on to host and capture the gold medal at the provincial Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF) tournament.
“Obviously it’s starting to sink in that this is it,” he said of his junior career.
A career highlight for Lace also includes capturing an OHF championship. His Clarington teams won back-to-back OMHA titles during his Minor Bantam and Bantam seasons. And his Bantam side went on to also capture the gold medal at its OHF tourney.
Though he will not be donning an Eagles’ jersey beyond this season, Lace is not ready to hang up his skates.
“I’ve got nothing planned right now,” he said. “But I hope to still play somewhere.”
“I would like to go out as the Schmalz Cup champions,” he said.
After spending his minor hockey days with clubs in Clarington, Doyle, a Bowmanville native, began his junior career by playing a pair of seasons at the Junior A level with the Pickering Panthers, members of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Doyle, however, opted to join his hometown Eagles starting with the 2019-20 campaign.
His plan is to find a spot to keep his competitive juices flowing after this season ends.
“I don’t think I’m ready to hang up my skates yet,” he said. “The goal is I’d like to play competitive somewhere next year.”
And he just might have a rather familiar face as his defensive partner. His dad.
Dean Baumhauer, a former Eagles’ player, has not suited up for any men’s teams the last few seasons.
“He keeps telling me he’ll come back and play when I do,” Nate Baumhauer said.
For now, however, the younger Baumhauer prefers to concentrate on his current squad.
“It’s hard to explain but it’s in the back of your mind,” he said of the fact his junior days are numbered. “Now that we’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to play every game like it’s your last game.”