Poulin Scores Two, Eagles Even Series

Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Media by R. Mansfield

The Schmalz Cup semi-final series between the Clarington Eagles and the Hanover Barons will come down to a best-of-three.

The Eagles battled back from a 1-0 first-period deficit, then held on for a 3-2 win Thursday evening at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex to even their best of seven series at two games apiece.

Hanover opened the scoring nine minutes into the first period. The Barons took advantage of a Clarington turnover along the boards, which they quickly converted on a one-timer from the slot, beating Eagles starter Oliver Webster.

The Eagles would answer back early in the second on the powerplay. After a clean faceoff win in the offensive zone, Ryan Hall moved the puck down low to big winger Jordan Shaw. Shaw circled behind the Hanover net before centering to Kolby Poulin out front for his fifth playoff goal.

Clarington wasn’t done there. The Eagles’ powerplay was finally showing some good puck movement after struggling to generate chances earlier in the series. Just under the 10-minute mark, Trevor Urquhart found Poulin with a cross-ice pass from the side wall. Poulin hammered home a one-timer for his second of the contest to put Clarington up 2-1.

The Eagles kept the Barons on their heels for much of the remainder of the second period. They generated numerous powerplay opportunities by keeping their feet moving while containing the Barons’ attack to the perimeter of the defensive zone.

Early in the third, Clarington extended their lead when Kayden Hambly fed Shaw a perfect stretch pass from the Eagles’ zone. Shaw split the Hanover defense to walk in alone on the goaltender and beat him blocker side for his 13th of the post-season. The goal would stand up to be the game-winner. Shaw now leads the league in that respect with five.

Hanover would score on the powerplay to get back within one. But the Eagles would limit their chances the rest of the way. A late push in the final 30 seconds with the Barons’ goalie pulled for an extra attacker was stonewalled by the Eagles’ defense and Webster. In the end, the defensive buy-in was the difference, with several blocked shots in the final seconds, including a huge one from Nolan Matheson.

“Our back end and our goalie have been playing really well,” said head coach Dean Baumhauer. “We shrunk the blueline down to four late in the game. Schoonderbeek and Matheson take on such big minutes in a series like this. They’re killing all the penalties, blocking shots…they’re just doing everything it takes to win at this point in the season.”

The Eagles delivered the type of performance their coaching staff was looking for after blowing a 4-1 lead in Hanover two days earlier playing with a short bench. “Obviously, we were coming off a tough loss Tuesday,” said Baumhauer. “Tonight, was a real gut check. How we played today says a lot about the room. Our powerplay had a pulse tonight. They can’t beat us five-on-five. We’re better than them at even strength. We’ve just got to stay out of the penalty box.”

Poulin’s two goals were his first of the series. He had struggled offensively in the previous three outings. Getting more production from the overager and others deeper in the lineup will be crucial to the Eagles’ chances of success if they are to advance from the series. “Poulie stepped up big time today,” said Baumhauer. “We needed that. Our offense can’t just be the Smith and Urquhart line. Poulie popped two huge goals for us today and had an extra jump in his step all night.”

“I was definitely due,” said Poulin. “Our powerplay was due as well. We saw how effective Hanover’s powerplay was in game three. It was the difference in game three. It was about time our powerplay started producing. We changed the look a little, throwing me out on the first unit tonight, and it worked out.”

Another change to the Eagles powerplay unit Thursday saw Urquhart manning the point. “He creates space with his speed and shiftiness,” said Poulin. “His vision is outstanding. You just have to get open for him and he’ll find you.”

Baumhauer noted the improved play throughout the entire lineup from the effort 48 hours earlier. “Bell and Hicks both had bounce-back games and managed the puck well. Brock Mathieson got back in the lineup and gave us some good minutes. Aitken had his feet moving all night and drew some penalties as a result. We’ve got a number of guys who are under the weather, but they all battled through it and played well.”

So, the series now comes down to who will be the first to win two more games. The first will be decided on Friday night in Hanover. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:00 pm.

Anyone wondering how seriously the players are taking this series, needs look no further than Frosty John’s Pub, the Eagles’ usual post-game meeting spot. One player made an appearance, taking in the third period of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ game six victory over the Boston Bruins while enjoying a quiet meal with his family. His beverage of choice…refill after refill of water.

“Tonight was a great bounce-back effort,” said Baumhauer. “Now we’ve got to go up tomorrow night and steal one in their barn so that the pressure is on them Sunday afternoon.”

Fans who can’t make the Friday trip to Hanover will be able to catch game six of the series back at home Sunday at 3:25 pm. Sunday’s contest will mark the first elimination game in the series. The question is, who will be facing elimination?