Article by Sam Laskaris / Photos by Chris Archer
All good things must come to an end.
And unfortunately for the Clarington Eagles, their longest win streak of the season came to an end on Sunday afternoon in Little Britain.
The Eagles were edged 5-4 against the host and undermanned Merchants, who due to COVID-related issues only dressed 12 skaters and one goalie for the match.
“We talked about not taking them lightly,” Clarington head coach Dean Baumhauer said of the Merchants.
That advice, however, was obviously not followed.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Baumhauer, who saw his club’s nine-game winning streak snapped by the Merchants. “I was disappointed though. Half of our team was here to play. But the other half was not here to compete today.”
Clarington’s loss was even more disappointing since the two squads are in a fierce battle for top spot in the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Orr Division.
With the two points from Sunday’s victory, the Merchants took over first place in the divisional standings. Little Britain now has 41 points via its 20-6-0-1 record.
The Merchants are one point ahead of the Eagles who saw their record fall to 19-6-0-2.
Both squads have five regular season contests remaining.
Eagles’ captain Mitch Doyle was obviously disappointed with the setback and even more so since his squad was not able to register a W and pull three points ahead of the Merchants.
Doyle said a Sunday victory would have meant members of the Clarington team would have been feeling much better of their chances of finishing atop the regular season divisional standings.
“Now it’s a lot of hoping and praying that somebody can beat Little Britain and that we can win out our games,” Doyle said.
One of the key players missing from the Merchants’ lineup was forward Riley Girard, who has been averaging two points per outing this season. Girard has racked up 46 points, including 26 goals, in 23 games.
Little Britain also played the match without its Number 1 puckstopper Oliver Webster or his two other regular backups.
Doyle said he was worried the Eagles might not take the game seriously when they saw how many players Little Britain had dressed.
“My concern was they’d think this was just going to be a cakewalk,” Doyle said. “And obviously it wasn’t.”
The Eagles’ cause was not helped by the fact its star netminder Alex Lepizzera was not his usual self.
“Lepy was not Lepy,” Baumhauer said. “It was not his game for the first time this season.”
Lepizzera has had numerous outstanding performances this year. And Doyle was disappointed his teammates did not have a better showing to bail out Lepizzera when he needed some assistance on Sunday.
“We let him down,” Doyle said.
One positive for the Clarington squad was the fact it scored three times while on the powerplay, a specialty team that has struggled for long stretches this season.
The Eagles will now prepare for a busy week, one which will see them play three matches in four nights.
For starters, Clarington will square off against the visiting Lakefield Chiefs this coming Thursday (Feb. 24) at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex. The opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:20 p.m.
The Eagles will then hit the road on Friday (Feb. 25) to meet the Uxbridge Bruins. Game time for that tilt, at the Uxbridge Arena and Recreation Centre, is 7:45 p.m.
And then two nights later, the Eagles will host the North Kawartha Knights, in their first Sunday home contest of the season. Puck drop is set for 7:20 p.m.