Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Photo by C. Archer
This was a game both teams likely had circled on their calendars (if people still had calendars 😉).
If you were to ask who the teams most likely to be facing off in the PJHL Orr division finals this spring are, odds are the answer would be the Clarington Eagles and the Georgina Ice. Going into Friday’s contest at the Georgina Ice Palace, the two clubs had separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the standings. While Clarington held an eight-point lead, Georgina had three games in hand. Effectively, only one extra loss by the Ice separated the clubs, making Friday’s matchup critical in the battle for the top playoff seed as the regular season winds down.
The Eagles knew they would have their hands full after defeating the third-place Uxbridge Bruins at home a night earlier. “It was the second game of a back-to-back, and this building is a tough place to play,” said head coach Dean Baumhauer. “I challenged our players this week. We had two tough opponents, so let’s see where we’re at.”
It took Clarington a little while to find their rhythm. After 20 minutes of primarily defensive play and neither club managing to generate many prime scoring opportunities, the action picked up in the second period.
It was the Ice who eventually opened the scoring 1:14 into the second. A missed defensive zone coverage left a shooter alone in the slot briefly. Just long enough to receive a centring pass from behind the net that was snapped past Eagles starter Oliver Webster.
The Georgina lead would not last long. At 3:28, Mitch Davies dished the puck to Hayes Bell on a two-on-one, sending the lanky forward alone on the goalkeeper. Bell made a quick backhand to forehand move before snapping the puck high over the goalie’s blocker. This drew the clubs even at 1-1.
The Eagles weren’t done there. Just 14 seconds later, Bell recovered a puck off an Eagles cycle and appeared to be skating it behind the Georgina net. Instead, he banked a shot off the goaltender’s back and in for his second of the game to put Clarington up 2-1. “He had his arm out, I guess thinking I might be going cross-crease,” said Bell of the play. “I thought I might as well try it. It worked out!”
The teams traded some good chances over the remainder of the second period, with Clarington largely carrying the play. What likely ended up being the most crucial moment of the game came at 16:39 of the second.
A high Georgina clearing attempt made it to the stick of Ice captain Mike McCullough in the neutral zone. One of the top goal scorers in the PJHL, the Ice captain, had half a step on defender Cole Williamson as the players raced down the ice toward the Eagles’ goalie. Webster was up to the task in net, turning away the Ice captain’s attempt. However, the officials deemed Williamson had hooked McCullough on the play leading to a Georgina penalty shot.
In a curious decision, McCullough elected to go with a slap shot from the hash marks on his penalty attempt. But Webster was up to the task once again, challenging the shooter from the top of his crease to deflect the puck away.
The Eagles would dominate the third period.
The Eagles added an insurance marker at 4:10 when Trent Gaylor snapped a rebound in off a Joe Boice shot attempt to put Clarington up 3-1.
Just 33 seconds later, the Eagles would add another. Davies knocked the puck off the Georgina puck carrier’s stick in the neutral zone on the play. Kyle Smith was there to collect the disk at the Ice blueline and break in alone on the goalkeeper. Smitty showed why he’s been pacing the Eagles in goal scoring this season, snapping a perfect shot high blocker for his 23rd of the season.
From that point on, Clarington put on a clinic in how to protect a lead. They kept pucks deep and frustrated Georgina in their offensive zone entry attempts to cap off a perfect 4-1 road win.
Asked if he recalled ever having less work in a period, Webster was quick to respond “No, I don’t think so,” with a relaxed grin. “I think I might have only had five shots in the third. They shut it down good! That’s exactly what we needed to do. Once we got a couple insurance goals, the boys pretty much shut the door on them.”
“That third period was a proud dad moment for me,” said head coach Dean Baumhauer. “That’s how you play hockey. Watching our guys put pucks in soft spots and managing the puck once we got the lead…Georgina had nothing for us in the third period. Webby was great! He made the saves when he needed to, and the rest of the boys bought in to playing the right way. That’s playoff hockey, that’s successful hockey…it was nice to watch.”
Baumhauer had nothing but praise up and down the Eagles lineup after the contest. “I couldn’t have asked for better tonight,” said Dean. “When you win a game and get one from the top line, but you also get secondary scoring…two from Bell, one from Gaylor…that’s huge. Our back end played great. Scoobs (Schoonderbeek) and Matheson played important minutes matched against their top guys all night. They were outstanding!”
The two clubs will clash one more time this season on February 22 at Rickard Arena.
Until then, there’s lots more hockey for Eagles fans to enjoy! The Port Perry Lumberjacks are in town Thursday February 1 at 7:25 p.m. We hope to see lots of Eagles fans in the building!