SAERC over Dalbrae in battle of top two

Dalbrae’s Keith MacDonell tests SAERC goalie Chase MacPherson.

PORT HOOD: The Dalbrae Dragons sure didn’t make it easy, but the SAERC Saints came out on top in a battle of high school hockey heavy weights.

“We got an early lead but almost blew it,” said Saint coach Stan MacNeil, following his team’s 5-3 win over the Dragons last Sunday. “Both teams really showed up. In the end, it was a good battle of two first place teams.”

SAERC held a 4-0 lead in the third period. Dalbrae battled back to make it a 4-3 game, until SAERC scored late on an empty net.

The game leaves SAERC in a position to overtake Dalbrae for first place in the Cape Breton West High School Hockey League standings, so long as the Saints can pull wins against Richmond this Thursday (Richmond Arena, 7:30 p.m.) and against Inverness/Baddeck this Friday (Inverness, 7 p.m.)

“They came out with a jump in the third period, and we expected them to be firing on all cylinders,” MacNeil said. “They had some puck luck and we played a little complacent in the third. That wasn’t in the game plan, but maybe they figured they’d done enough to win it.”

The first period was scoreless, but ended with a four-minute head contact call against Saint Brady MacNeil. The Saints came out with a big kill in the early going of the second and, just over a minute after leaving the box, MacNeil (from Braden Kelly and Shamus Beaton) connected while cutting across the crease of Dalbrae’s Eric MacIsaac.

Just two minutes later, Andre Gerroir (unassisted) popped one for SAERC, making it a 2-0 game. That lead stayed in place for the balance of the frame.

The third period saw the Saints garner a 4-0 lead, with MacNeil (from Kelly) pushing the puck through a scramble at the Dalbrae crease at 5:34 and Andrew MacNeil (unassisted) blasting a slap shot from the point through a heavy screen at 6:58.

However, Dalbrae wasn’t done yet.

“We knew we had to get one,” coach Ardell Hawley said. “We knew they’d go back on their heels, if we scored.

“Everyone in the rink thought the game was over except the people who’ve been around the team all year. We score in bunches, and we have a lot of skill.”

With 3:36 left on the clock, Dalbrae’s Keith MacDonell (from Matt Ellis and Jayden Muise) scored on a sprawling Chase MacPherson, SAERC’s backstop. Just 36 seconds later, MacDonell (from Ellis and Luke Gould) made it a 4-2 game.

With 1:43 left on the clock, Dalbrae’s Angus MacDonald (from Ellis) scored to bring his crew to within one.

With 15 seconds left on the clock, SAERC’s Brady White (from MacNeil) managed an empty net goal to put the game out of reach.

“It’s great to get a loss like this out of your system,” Hawley said. “We still have a great opportunity to succeed.”

Coach MacNeil said it wasn’t exactly the end he was looking for, but he and the Saints are happy to come out on top.

Both teams entered the game with a tough hand, as the game was the Dragons fourth in three days (they attended the Red Cup tournament last weekend as well, going 1-2) and the Saints were without two of their top players.