Article by Sam Laskaris/Photos by Chris Archer
It was the perfect start that the Clarington Eagles were looking for.
The Eagles hit the road on Wednesday and managed to eke out a 4-3 victory over the host Little Britain Merchants.
With that win Clarington took a 1-0 lead in its best-of-seven Provincial Junior Hockey League Orr Division championship final series.
The Eagles, however, won’t have long to savor their series-opening triumph. That’s because the two rivals will get right back at it on Thursday night.
The Clarington squad is hosting Game 2 in the series at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex. The opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:20 p.m.
Eagles’ veteran forward Connor Davies scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on Wednesday. Davies’ goal, which gave Clarington a 4-2 lead with about five and a half minutes left in the contest, was his first of the post-season.
“It feels unreal to go up there and steal the first game in their barn,” Davies said.
The series opener marked the first time in the Eagles’ 2022 playoff run that they were outshot by their opponents. The Merchants held a 33-23 shot advantage in the contest staged at Little Britain Arena.
“They sure came on us early,” Davies said of the Merchants, who outshot the Eagles 13-8 in the opening 20 minutes and by a 14-9 count in the second period. “But Leppy held us in there.”
That would be Clarington’s star goaltender Alex Lepizzera, who earned his ninth playoff victory in 10 starts.
“One down, three to go,” Lepizzera said of the Eagles’ goal in the divisional final. “It’s always good to get the first one in the series.”
The Eagles kicked off both of those series on the road despite having home-ice advantage. As for the divisional final, Little Britain entered the series with home-ice advantage.
Besides Davies’ winning tally, Eagles’ assistant captain Brent Lace also netted a key goal in the series opener. After the Merchants had tied the score at 2-2 just past the midway mark of the second period, Lace popped in a shorthanded marker during the 15th minute of the middle stanza.
After Clarington lost a faceoff in its own zone, Lace managed to get to the puck, chip it out of the Eagles’ end and then go in on a breakaway and score.
“It’s good to get goals from different people,” Lace said. “We’re going to need that here down the stretch.”
Davies said he relishes the fact the Eagles will have a quick turnaround and be back on the ice Thursday.
“Love it,” he said. “That’s the thing about the playoffs. You always want to be playing.”
Wednesday’s match concluded with some rough stuff near the end as Lepizzera was nudged in his crease with 1.3 seconds remaining, earning the Merchants’ a goalie interference penalty.
“It was chippy like that all game,” Lepizzera said. “You like that in a game. It was just two good teams going at it.”
After Thursday’s outing, the series will resume at the Little Britain Arena with Game 3 set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Clarington will then host Game 4 next Tuesday (Apr. 12). Puck drop for that tilt is scheduled for 7:50 p.m.
Additional Photos by Chris Archer: