DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
For the first time in five seasons, the Port Perry MoJacks will be competing for the Cougar Cup COJHL championship following a four-game sweep of the rival Uxbridge Bruins in a 'Battle of North Durham' semifinal series.
Although short-lived, the series lived up to its advance hype, with local fans treated to four thrilling contests over the past week, with two games, including the clincher on Sunday afternoon in Port Perry, decided in overtime.
Graham Lamers ended the affair when he slammed in a rebound just over seven minutes into the extra frame in Game 4 on Sunday, Feb. 21 in Port Perry before a raucous crowd of nearly 500 fans to give the MoJacks a 3-2 victory.
Port Perry will now face off against the winner of the series between the Clarington Eagles and Lakefield Chiefs to determine the 2016 COJHL champion, and the representative of the league in the Clarence Schmalz Cup provincial playoffs.
"We had a goal as a club to get to the championship, and we've met that first goal," jubilant MoJacks head coach Clair Cornish told The Standard following Game 4. "Now, I think that we really believe in the talented hockey club that we are, and hopefully we can continue on this course. I'm glad that all our hard work in our practices is paying off. They deserve to be here, they've worked hard all year. This is their reward, and when we come back to the rink we'll regroup and prepare to go after Clarington or Lakefield."
The series started with a bang on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the Bear Den, with the MoJacks coming back from a two-goal deficit late in the third period to score a 3-2 overtime win.
A pair of goals from 2016 COJHL MVP Marco Mastrangelo pushed the Bruins to a 2-0 lead with just under five minutes to play in regulation. But, with the MoJacks pressing for a powerplay goal, Kyle Schweda found Jeff St. Pierre charging to the net to bring the visitors within a goal. Then, with just 16 seconds remaining, and a pair of Bruins in the penalty box and MoJacks netminder Brett Chandler summoned to the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Lucas Berkers fired a shot from the point that weaved between the tangle of limbs and sticks in front of the net to tie the game.
Just over three minutes into overtime, Kyle Schweda broke in on goal, and bounced a shot off Uxbridge goalie Branden Francey's facemask onto the stick of a stampeding Jordan 'Bubba' McCullough, and he buried the rebound to score a Game 1 victory for Port Perry.
Both sides would have little time to recover from the physicality of the opener, as they renewed hostilities the following evening at Scugog Arena for Game 2.
There was great energy from both sides through a scoreless opening period, with Chandler and Francey at the top of their games.
With Port Perry on the powerplay, Mitch Gustavsen slammed in a rebound near the midpoint of the second period to open the scoring.
The Bruins would continue to battle throughout the remainder of the game, but could not solve Chandler, with Kyle Schweda providing an insurance goal into an empty net as the MoJacks prevailed by a score of 2-0.
With their backs against the wall, the Bruins returned home to the Bear Den on Friday, Feb. 19 looking to claw their way back into the series.
Boosting Uxbridge's hopes was the return of Daryl Thomson. Although, the team was dealt a blow to its depth chart when dynamic rookie Coby Gardner suffered a concussion in Game 2 that would ultimately sideline him for the remainder of the series.
The MoJacks were able to shake off the slow starts that had dragged them down when visiting Uxbridge for much of the season in the first period, as they took a 3-0 lead into the opening intermission behind two goals from Kyle Schweda and a single from Graham Lamers.
The Bruins would roar back in the second period. But, they could not solve Chandler until just over six minutes were left in the game when Patrick Bolahood jammed in a loose puck on the powerplay to draw Uxbridge to within two goals.
However, that would be as close as the black and gold would get, as Kyle Schweda again provided the insurance, slipping his hat trick goal into an empty net, giving Port Perry a 4-1 win and a stranglehold on the series as it shifted back to Scugog Arena on Sunday afternoon.
There was a buzz in the air, as the MoJacks' largest crowd of the year to date was on hand for Game 4.
The Bruins wasted little time opening the scoring, as Aiden Reilly tipped in a shot from Mastrangelo just 40 seconds into the action.
However, the MoJacks would strike back just over four minutes later when Ethan Ramsden tucked in a loose puck, assisted by Kyle and Liam Schweda.
The score would remain deadlocked in the second period as the pace quickened, with the North Durham rivals trading sensational scoring chances.
Just before the midpoint of the second period, Mastrangelo fought through traffic in front of the net to jam in a loose puck, and his shorthanded goal put the Bruins back in front.
As they had done throughout the season, the MoJacks upped the ante late with additional pressure, and with just under four minutes to play, a bouncing point shot from Liam Schweda found the back of the net to knot the game at 2-2.
Despite a flurry of opportunities late, neither side would add another goal in regulation, and the game eventually headed to overtime.
Then, with just under seven minutes to play, the MoJacks headed to the powerplay, with a face-off to the right of the Bruins' goal. On the play, Lucas Clark won the face-off back to the blue line back to Berkers, and his shot couldn't find its way through the crowd in front. However, Lamers was there to scoop up the puck and fire it through traffic into the back of the net.
Following the game, Cornish noted how closely matched the two sides were throughout the series.
"When we got swept by Uxbridge a few years ago, we had our chances to win in each of the three games, they could've gone either way. It was the same thing here, and we came from behind twice. These were evenly matched teams and that showed over the four games."
Meanwhile, Bruins head coach Geoff Hodgkinson praised the effort put forth by his team, in particular, the team's trio of graduating players: Mastrangelo, Thomson and Francey.
“It's a tough loss to take, because of how tight the games were and how they all came right down to the wire," Hodgkinson told The Standard. "We did everything we could to find a way to win except score goals. It's disappointing for it to end the way it did, especially for our overage players, they gave everything they could for this team."
Port Perry's Christian Elliott had a strong start to the NCAA spring golf season over the weekend, part of a Penn State team that finished in fifth place at Big Ten Match Play the Hammock Beach Resort in Florida.
The Nittany Lions began the competition losing a competitive matchup to Indiana, 3-2-1, but responded with the most dominant victory of day one of the tournament as they defeated Michigan by a score of 5-0-1.
Elliott won both of his day one matchups, defeating his opponents from the Hoosiers and Wolverines. On the second day of competition, Penn State dropped their opening match-up to the eventual champions from Michigan State 5-1-0 before rallying to secure fifth place with a 2-2 record after defeating Minnesota 3-2-1 in the final round.
Although he dropped a competitive contest to his oponent from Michigan State in the morning, Elliott came out on top against his Minnesota counterpart, 3 and 2.
Penn State's golf team will return to action on the links on Feb. 27 for a rematch with Michigan State in The Challenge at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
Depth has been a key component of the Port Perry MoJacks' success this season, so it is little surprise that no player has scored multiple goals during the MoJacks' hot start to the playoffs, which has them leading the North Kawartha Knights three-games-to-none in the COJHL quarterfinals.
“That's MoJacks hockey. That's the way we've designed our systems and built our team," Port Perry head coach Clair Cornish told The Standard. "When we're playing at our best, the scoring is balanced throughout the lines, with contributions from our defence."
Finishing third in the COJHL regular season table on a tiebreaker after winning the head-to-head series with the Little Britain Merchants, the MoJacks drew the sixth-seeded North Kawartha Knights. The Apsley-based club is making its first-ever playoff appearance, after joining the COJHL in 2014.
The series opened in Port Perry on Wednesday, Feb. 3, with the MoJacks skating to a 6-3 victory.
A powerplay goal from Lucas Berkers was the lone goal of the first period. The Knights tied the game just 15 seconds into the second period, followed shortly afterwards by goals from Todd McNair and Kyle Schweda to give the home side a 3-1 advantage.
North Kawartha drew within a goal just before the midpoint of the game, but third period goals from Konrad Piorkowski, Ben Sheremeta and Jordan McCullough put the game out of reach, although the Knights would net a late powerplay goal to round out the scoring.
Saturday night, the MoJacks traveled to Apsley for a pivotal Game 2, and scored a hard-fought 4-3 win.
Boosted by a boisterous crowd witnessing the first playoff game in franchise history, North Kawartha jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Kyle Schweda could get Port Perry on the scoreboard.
A strong second period, with goals from Mitchell Gustavsen, Chris Polito and Jeff St. Pierre built a 4-2 lead for the MoJacks heading into the third period.
Just over four minutes into the third, North Kawartha netted a powerplay goal to draw to within one. However, that would be as close as they would come, as Brett Chandler made several key saves down the stretch to preserve a 4-3 win for the MoJacks.
Returning home for a matinee encounter on Sunday, Feb. 7, the MoJacks rolled to a 7-0 shutout at Scugog Arena, with Chandler turning aside all 23 shots from the Knights.
First period goals from St. Pierre and McNair built a 2-0 lead. The advantage swelled to 6-0 in the middle frame, with Gustavsen, Graham Lamers, Ethan Ramsden and Piorkowski finding the back of the net. A powerplay goal from Lucas Clark rounded out the afternoon's offensive output.
With Game 4 looming on Tuesday evening in Apsley (after The Standard's press deadline), Cornish has been working to keep his charges focused on the matter that is at hand.
"We have a gameplan and part of it is to look at each period on its own, and focus on what we can do in small intervals," explained Cornish.
The team has been avoiding the temptation to look ahead to a potential 'Battle of North Durham' match-up against the Uxbridge Bruins in the COJHL semifinals. The series would mark the first playoff meeting between the rivals since 2013, when the MoJacks were swept in a four-game semifinal series.
Check www.portperrymojacks.ca or www.thestandardnewspaper.ca for all of the latest news on the MoJacks. COJHL playoff action.
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
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.