As the COJHL regular season wound to a close over the past two weekends, the Uxbridge Bruins saved their best for last, posting an unbeaten record in four games to conclude the regular season.
Coming into the weekend, the Bruins found themselves tied for second place in the table with the rival Port Perry MoJacks, and the Little Britain Merchants lurking four points behind with a game still in hand.
The Bruins controlled their own playoff destiny, needing at least three points to clinch second place and secure a first round bye in the playoffs. However, they would face tough competition from the Clarington Eagles, who followed up a league championship season by running roughshod over the COJHL, piling up a record of 36-3-1-1.
Although neither side prevailed, the crowd of almost 300 was treated to a thrilling encounter at the Bear Den, as the Bruins fought the Clarington Eagles to a 2-2 ties. The following evening, Uxbridge took to the road, put an exclamation point on the season, shutting out the North Kawartha Knights 12-0 in Apsley.
In their final regular season home game on Friday night, a ferocious forecheck allowed the Bruins to control the pace early, and keep the high-flying first-place Eagles pinned down in their own end.
However, the Eagles would turn the tide in the second half of the opening frame, with William Lamoureux notching the game's first goal with just over four minutes left in the period.
The Bruins continued to press for a goal, looking to use their size advantage to wear down the fleet-footed Eagles. However, the Eagles would take advantage of another powerplay opportunity with just over seven minutes remaining to take a 2-0 lead.
Three minutes later, the Bruins would capitalize on their own powerplay chance, as Jordan Nesbitt slammed a loose puck past Eagles Mark Jobb with the Clarington defensive corp scrambling in front of the net due to the high-pressure attack of Alex Siblock, Marco Mastrangelo and Coby Gardner.
The Bruins wasted little time tying the game in the third period, with Gardner coverting a pass from Mastrangelo just 32 seconds into the frame.
Shortly afterwards, a spirited bout between Bruins defenceman Brett Thomson and Clarington's Ben Pitchforth brought the crowd to its feet and seemed to spark both benches. For the final 18 minutes of action, the two sides traded scoring chances, with Branden Francey making several sensational saves for the Bruins to keep the game deadlocked until the end of regulation time in the game.
In a wide-open three-on-three overtime period, the action carried over for an additional five minutes. Although there were numerous close calls, neither side could find the back of the net, resulting in a 2-2 tie.
"Having all of these tough games down the stretch and now with a chance to really control our own destiny is just the way I like it," commented Bruins head coach Geoff Hodgkinson following the game.
"We've said for weeks that we don't want to be limping into the playoffs, and our guys have given us great effort in a number of must-win games recently."
The following night, the Bruins trekked to Apsley for their final game of the regular season, and wrapped up a second place finish in resounding fashion with a 12-0 drubbing of the North Kawartha Knights.
Francey would post his COJHL season-best fifth shutout of the campaign in the win.
Patrick Bolahood led the way offensively, registering a hat trick as part of a four-point night. Gardner and Aiden Reilly each scored twice, with singles from Brett Thomson, Mastrangelo, Ryan Miehm, Brady Baker and Quintino Zarlenga.
Following the game, Hodgkinson praised the stellar work of Francey in recent weeks, with the team needing to maximize its place in the standings.
"Francey has been in playoff form lately. He completely deserves his opportunity. He knows what's at stake and has stepped up and led us to this great run down the stretch."
- The Bruins will be off this weekend, reaping the benefits of a first-round playoff bye that they have recently clinched.
- Uxbridge native Kenzie Smith of the Little Britain Merchants has been named COJHL Pepsi Player of the Month for January, posting 14 points in nine games.
- Starting later this week, the Merchants will take on the Lakefield Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs, with the MoJacks drawing the North Kawartha Knights in the other quarterfinal series.