PORT HAWKESBURY: Even though the East Hants Penguins popped two goals in the first period, the Strait Pirates rallied back to prove, in a shootout, that the maroon and white are the top squad in the provincial Junior league.
“It was back-and-forth, and that’s what we were expecting with the top two teams in the league,” said Pirate coach Taylor Lambke, following the 4-3 final last Friday. “We did a good job of sticking with the game plan and we came out with the result we were looking for.
“I think it showed perseverance and determination on our part to keep pushing even though we were losing. We came back and tied it, and though we gave up the tying goal late, we found a way to get the win.”
As Lambke pointed out, the game last Friday was a showdown between the top squads in the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL). The Strait are the top dogs at 21-2-1 (43 points) but the Penguins are just a smidge behind with a 19-4-2-2 record (42 points).
With that, the Penguin offense is the strongest in the NSJHL with 173 goals in 27 games. That breaks down to an average of over six goals per outing. On the flip side, the Pirates are the top squad in their own zone, having allowed only 48 goals in 24 games. That’s a per-game average of two goals.
“We didn’t panic, we stayed calm,” Lambke said. “We stuck to the game plan and knew we’d get our chance. Even though it was 2-0 after the first, I thought it was a pretty even period. Our job was to fight back, and we did that.”
Managing goals for East Hants in the first were Derek Boudreault and Kyle Randall, but the Strait fought off three Penguin man-advantages. In the middle frame, Avery Warner (from Joshua MacKinnon and Christian Papineau) took advantage of a Strait power play to bring the Pirates to within a goal of tying.
That tying goal came with just under three minutes played in the third, as Taylor Pierce (from Branden Dauphinee and Matthew Morgan) put the puck past Penguin goalie Ryan Huestis.
Lifting the Pirates to a 3-2 lead was Joshua MacMillan (from Dauphinee) who scored on a power play at 7:54. With 28 seconds left in the third, Penguin Quinn MacDonald got the drop on Pirate netminder Cody Smith.
After a scoreless overtime, the game was decided in a shootout. The Pirates outshot the Pens 37-34.
Now, things get busy for the Pirates.
This Friday, the guys host the Antigonish Bulldogs for a 7:30 p.m. start, and on Sunday, the Pirates visit Eskasoni.
Next Tuesday, the Pirates host the Glace Bay Miners in a make-up game at 7:30 p.m., and the flowing night, the Miners host the Pirates. Just two days after that, the Pirates will return to the Civic Centre for a Friday night outing against the Cumberland County Blues. The following day, the Strait returns to Eskasoni for Saturday afternoon action.
“That’s six games in 10 days,” Lambke said. “It’s going to be good for us to get that conditioning before playoffs. You learn more during games in this league than during practices.
“As a group, we’ll work together and hopefully get some wins.”
As always, Lambke said the Pirates are anxious to play well for their home crowd, so locals are encouraged to come out.