PORT HAWKESBURY: Pirate captain Matthew Morgan said late in the third period of last night’s all important game seven against the Antigonish Bulldogs, he and the rest of the maroon and white were feeling they could begin to relax.
“In the last five minutes, maybe,” he said, noting the Strait was leading 5-0 over the tenacious Bulldogs at that point.
The score remained 5-0 at the final buzzer.
The Bulldogs’ persistence in the series was a surprise for many Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) observers.
That’s not to disrespect Antigonish, who had a very solid year. They finished the regular season above .500 at 17-15. However, the Pirates recorded their most winning season ever in 2018-19, taking first place in the NSJHL with a 29-2-1 record.
With that, the last regular season meeting between the teams saw the Pirates win 11-4.
However, once the first round series got cooking, Antigonish proved to have a jump that led to victories in the second, third, and fourth games. The Pirates took the first game of the series but, leading into game five last Friday, the Strait found itself teetering on elimination.
The Strait won that game 4-3 in overtime, and game six was a 4-2 win for the maroon and white.
Captain Morgan said the Strait had the right head space leading into those final three games.
“The mind-set was the same tonight as it was in game five and six, just take it one period at a time and one shift at a time,” Morgan said. “They fought hard all series and never really gave us a chance to get ahead. We have a lot of respect for them.
“We were expected to sweep them, and they went up 3-1,” he said. “They really showed that playoff hockey is a whole other thing.”
Last night, the Pirates had a clear edge in play, as they outshot the Bulldogs 13-7 in the first period. The second frame was even worse, as the Bulldogs were limited to just three shots on Pirate goalie Cody Smith. The Pirates sent 13 pucks in Bulldog goalie Jared Green’s direction.
By the end of 60 minutes, the Pirates outshot the Bulldogs 40-21.
The first frame saw Cullen MacEachern (from Avery Warner) and Joshua MacMillan (from Randon MacKinnon) make the score 2-0 Pirates. MacEachern’s goal was at 3:59, and MacMillan scored at 14:19.
MacKinnon doubled up on scoring in the second, managing his first goal from Matthew Morgan and Brendan Kenneth Lanning with 7:29 played. His second came with 7:32 remaining. Setting up the power play goal were Taylor Pierce and Morgan.
Pierce (from Sebastian Vella) added an insurance goal at 10:20 of the third.
The Pirates will now face the Glace Bay Miners in the second round.
Glace Bay made relatively short work of the Pictou Scotians, finishing the best-of-seven series in five games. On offense, both Daniel Reid and Mitchell Johnson have been hot for Glace Bay, as they sit in a four-way tie for second place in playoff scoring (nine points each). Reid also brings a physical presence to the ice.
Miner goalie Kaine Drake has also been excellent, managing a save percentage of .933 (second best in playoffs) and a 2.91 goals against average. Pirate Smith has also been crushing it, with a 2.30 goals against average and a .926 save percentage (third best in the league).
The series begins this Friday in Port Hawkesbury at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, game two takes place at the Membertou Sports and Wellness Centre (7:30 p.m.). Game three sees the squads return to Port Hawkesbury on Friday, March 22 (7:30 p.m.)