Eagles Push Barons to Brink of Elimination with Gritty Road Win

Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Media by C. Archer

One more win.

That’s all that stands between the Clarington Eagles and a third consecutive Schmalz Cup final appearance after a hard-earned 1-0 road victory against the Hanover Barons Friday night. The Eagles now lead the best-of-seven series three games to two and have the opportunity to eliminate Hanover on Sunday afternoon on home ice.

Friday’s pivotal game five contest was another solid defensive battle between two outstanding hockey teams. There were no scoring chances easily awarded. Every inch of ice had to be earned from the opening drop of the puck. Those offensive chances that did get generated were turned away by Oliver Webster in the Clarington net and his counterpart across the rink, Derek Hartley.

The Barons had a little more bounce in their step through the opening 20 minutes. That was expected, given the Eagles’ three-hour commute that still arrived a little late and a number of players recovering from illness. Nonetheless, the Eagles did well limiting the Barons’ chances before heading into the first intermission scoreless.

In the second period, Clarington had clearly found their legs. They spent significantly more time forcing the play in the offensive zone while limiting Hanover to only six shots on goal. Despite not getting on the scoresheet during the middle frame, the Eagles had to feel good about their game. They were going into the third period and needed only one goal to potentially capture the road win.

As the third period rolled along, both teams had a few decent looks offensively. Stellar goalkeeping at both ends of the ice kept the score knotted at zeros. It was becoming clear to the 1,050 fans in attendance that the outcome may come down to one break for either team.

After 51 minutes of scoreless hockey, that break fell in the Eagles’ favour. Off a scramble in front of the Hanover goal, Kyle Smith chipped the puck past Hartley to finally deliver the go-ahead goal for Clarington.

Eagles fans in attendance held their collective breath briefly as the four officials conferred near the penalty box to discuss the play (it was unclear what the debate was about). But after the discussion, they turned and pointed to center ice, signalling a good goal.

From there, the Clarington defense took over. Hanover pulled their goaltender in the final two minutes in an attempt to force overtime. With 10 seconds to play, Nolan Matheson pinned the puck against the boards in the Eagles’ end. The ensuing scrum ate up the final seconds on the clock to preserve the Clarington win.

All in all, both clubs made a gritty effort. Despite being a highly competitive game, only one minor penalty was assessed through 60 minutes. The officiating crew let the boys play, overlooking borderline infractions. In turn, the players on both benches delivered clean, hard-nosed performances, and the game flowed well.

Eagles head coach Dean Baumhauer, who is certainly not shy of letting the officials know what he thinks of their performances during games, gave credit where credit was due. “Great officiating today,” said Dean. “This should be shown as an example of how a playoff game should be called. The supervisor watching here tonight said this was perfect.”

Baumhauer was obviously thrilled to be heading home with the chance to wrap up the series Sunday. “Outstanding effort!” said Dean. “I thought both teams looked a little tired in the first after playing the night before. We’ve got a couple of sick guys in the lineup trying to give us whatever they can. But we had a strong second period. We looked like we were coming on, and they looked tired. We knew the third period would probably come down to one shot or tip, and that’s how it played out.”

“Webby played outstanding in goal again tonight,” Baumhauer continued. “Our back end…Nolan, Shep, Hammer, Scoob, Hallzy, Willy…they all played outstanding. And that was the key tonight. This defense group is as good as you will get in this league. I’m proud of these guys.”

Defensemen Ethan Schoonderbeek and partner Matheson again found themselves logging heavy high-stress minutes as the Eagles protected their one-goal lead. “It was a great team effort today,” said Schoonderbeek. “It takes everybody chipping in to be able to pull off a 1-0 road win. We did a great job of containing them defensively while creating some decent offensive looks. That’s what it takes to be a good playoff team. Now we have to do the same thing on Sunday. Keep them contained, get pucks on net, and crash the goal.”

Webster picked up his PJHL-leading sixth shutout of the playoffs, making several huge saves in the process to keep the game scoreless. “They shut us out in game one, so it feels good to return the favour,” said Oliver. “The boys were resilient tonight and put in a good overall team effort. Now we need the same effort on Sunday. If we do that, good things will happen.”

The first elimination game in the series will take place at 3:25 pm this Sunday at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex in Bowmanville. Fans should expect another fierce battle on the ice as the Eagles look to punch their ticket to the Schmalz Cup final once again, and the Barons do everything in their power to prevent it from happening.