PORT HAWKESBURY: The Dalbrae Dragons connected for three third period goals last Sunday night to lift them to a 7-4 win over the SAERC Saints. As a result, the Dragons are the 2019-20 Highland Regional champs.
“A couple players really stood out for SAERC,” said Dalbrae captain Griffin Spears. “Their goalie stood on his head, but shift-by-shift we got it done. That was the plan, and at the end of the day, we’re regional champs.”
The victory assures Dalbrae a spot at the Division II provincials. SAERC still has a shot at making it to the big event, but that now hinges on a qualifier game.
In addition to that, Dalbrae and SAERC will also meet for a best-of-three series to decide the Cape Breton West High School Hockey league championship. The series starts this Wednesday, February 26, at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.
“The effort was there, the team was there, the momentum was there, but we just didn’t have the breaks when we needed them,” said SAERC coach Stan MacNeil of the regional banner game.
“A quick turn over, and the game flips. They [Dalbrae] have a good team, some high-end players, and I can’t say enough about them. They dug as deep as we did.”
The first period saw SAERC go ahead when Ethan Donaldson (from Andre Gerroir and Shamus Beaton) let a wrister go from the top of the circle. The power play goal came at 3:22. Dalbrae took advantage of a man-advantage at 6:56, with Jayden Muise (from Luke Gould and Spears) hitting the top corner on a point shot.
SAERC found themselves nursing another power play late in the period, but Dalbrae sniper Matt Ellis (unassisted) took advantage of a neutral zone turnover and broke in to make it 2-1.
The second frame saw Dalbrae’s Ellis (from Muise) and Muise (from Nolan Beaton) score, with SAERC’s Shamus Beaton (from Brady White) and Braden Kelly (from Brady MacNeil and Beaton) scoring.
Most significantly, SAERC’s White (from Harrison MacFadyen and Donaldson) broke into the Dalbrae zone and popped the Saints’ fourth goal with seven seconds left on the clock. That goal tied the game 4-4.
“The momentum shifted at that point, and we kind of got down on ourselves,” said Dalbrae’s Spears. “We had to come together as a team, build each other up again, and get everyone on the same page.”
The turning point in the third period came when Dalbrae’s Muise (from Ellis and Gould) intercepted a clearing attempt and was able to beat SAERC goalie Chase MacPherson. That was the game winner.
Ellis (from Gould) and Colin Van Zutphen (from Joshua Smith and Angus MacDonald) rounded out the Dalbrae scoring.
Captain Spears said the scorers deserve lots of credit, especially with the Saints bringing a very physical style of play targeting the snipers.
“Matt [Ellis] really showed who he is – him and Jayden Muise,” Spears said. “They both had a hell of a game, and if it wasn’t for goalie Kyle Aylward between the pipes, we wouldn’t have won.”
Faces were a little longer in the SAERC dressing room, but coach MacNeil said the squad had a good game plan in place. That game plan included playing physically in an effort to wear down Dalbrae’s top guns, including the league’s MVP and leading scorer, Matt Ellis.
“We were working on him – he’s a Junior A talent – and we hoped the others would fall if he did, like a domino effect,” he said. “We were outshooting them probably 12-6 going into the later part of the third period. I kept saying it over and over again. It only takes one mistake to throw the switch.
“Dreams don’t always work out.”