PORT HAWKESBURY: It’s said a good netminder can steal a series, and never was that more true than in the championship of the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League where the Sackville Blazers claimed the banner at the expense of the Strait Pirates.
“We ran into a hot goalie in the finals,” said Pirate coach Taylor Lambke, speaking to The Reporter last Sunday afternoon. “Every game we were getting 40 or 50 shots, and he kind of had our number.
“I didn’t think we played a bad game in the series. I think we played six solid hockey games, but we just couldn’t find a way to score. We only gave up 12 goals in the series. That’s two goals a game, and giving up that few goals you think you’d have a chance to win.
“It’s tough, but we accomplished a lot this year and the future looks bright for this organization.”
The series concluded last Friday night with the Blazers managing a 4-1 win in their home barn. This gave the Blazers a 4-2 series win, granting them the provincial league’s championship.
Joshua MacMillan (from Christian Papineau and Liam MacKinnon) had a third period goal for the Strait, spoiling the shutout of Blazer Justin Sumarah. Sumarah was named Playoff MVP and, in the final game, he stopped 46 shots.
Facing that number of opportunities was standard operating procedure for the goalie. In total, the Pirates sent 268 pucks his way in the championship series.
Pirate goalie Cody Smith was also dynamite in net. Smith was named the league’s top goalie in the regular season. In game six, he faced 37 shots, and he led the NSJHL playoffs with a 2.01 goals against average. (Sumarah was second at 2.71).
“I told our guys they should have no regrets,” Lambke said. “They were two games away from achieving what they wanted to achieve in September. They battled right to the end, and they didn’t get the breaks.
“We did everything we could to bring a championship to Port Hawkesbury, and that’s the new standard now. I think that’s the biggest thing to come out of this season. We’ll continue to push for championships year after year.”
The championship series wasn’t without some controversy.
In game six, the Pirates were without the services of Randon MacKinnon and Avery Warner, both of whom were ousted from the third period in game five and facing one-game suspensions. Warner was given a game misconduct in the last 10 minutes, and MacKinnon was out for goaltender interference.
The MacKinnon ousting also resulted in Lambke being taken out of game five, which Sackville won 3-2.
The coach maintains the referees were out of order in the MacKinnon calls and the resulting exits.
“I don’t think all the fans knew exactly what happened. It wasn’t for misconduct [that I got kicked out]. It was an inappropriate call,” he said.
“There were two goalie interference calls made, and the referees made a gigantic mistake. They thought that two goalie interference calls against you was an automatic ejection for your coach, but it’s not. It’s three. The goalie interference penalties against Randon were inappropriately as well.”
He said neither he nor MacKinnon ought to have been given an early exit.
“I’m more upset for Randon who ended his junior career sitting in the stands at the Sackville Arena. That’s tough to swallow. He’s been a loyal soldier for this organization. It was hard knowing a referee’s decision led to it.
“I’m not blaming the series on the referees. Sackville did their job and found a way to win the series, but game five was unfortunate. It was a terrible job the refs did in my opinion.”
The coach said the Pirates have appealed to the league, but that didn’t change the lineup for game six.
Lambke said he and the Pirates are very happy with fan and sponsor support during the season.