YARMOUTH, N.S. – The Yarmouth Mariners are headed to the MHL hockey league championship.
The Mariners punched their ticket to the league championship final series by winning Game 5 in their division final with the South Shore Lumberjacks by a score of 4-2 in front of another sold-out crowd at the Mariners Centre on April 8.
“This is my fourth year in junior so I’ve been waiting my whole junior career for this,” said Mariners player Duncan McKie. “It’s a great feeling to finally be able to have the opportunity to win a championship, especially here in Yarmouth. It’s such a great town with such great fans. Everyone is just so supportive of us. It’s just awesome.”
“It’s a great feeling," added teammate Ben Chipman. The Mariners haven't been to a league final since 2012. "It’s a long time coming for Yarmouth and it’s really special to share this feeling with all of my teammates and the great fans of Yarmouth here," he said.
The Mariners, who had gone into this game leading the series 3-1, scored twice in the first period. The first goal was scored by Andrew Martell (Logan Timmons, Patrick Daley) at 14:28. The next goal came 90 seconds later off the stick of Brendan Young (Kyle Bergh, Connor Peveril). The Lumberjacks evened the score in the second period, first with a power play goal by Logan O’Neil (Mateo Short, Jonathan Mason) at 5:25 into the frame. South Shore later tied the game at 15:23 with a shorthanded goal scored by Samuel Cyr-Ledoux (Adam Crowe).
The game winning goal was fired in the net by Adam Pilotte (Matt Barron, Brent Broaders) at 5:16 in the third period. The Lumberjacks pulled their goalie at the end of the game and in what has no doubt been the most exciting empty net goal of the year, Aaron Maillet shot the puck in the net off a pass from Luc Poirier and Adam Pilotte with 39.7 seconds remaining in the game while the Mariners were on a power play for the 4-2 win.
“It doesn’t get much better than this – a chance to play in the finals and bring back the trophy to Yarmouth, it’s long overdue,” said player Matthew Barron after the win. “That was our goal from the start of the year and we plan on doing that.”
In net for the Mariners during Game 5 Leif Hertz stopped 29 of 31 Lumberjacks shots. In net for South Shore, goalie Conor McCollum had faced 31 shots.
Duncan McKie said there is no doubt that the Lumberjacks were hungry for a win too. South Shore had extended the series by winning at home over the Mariners 2-1 in Game 4.
“They came to play, it was elimination for them," he said. "They capitalized on situations and it was a really good game for them too.”
Head coach Laurie Barron said he is very proud of the Mariners team.
"It was one of those games that kind of almost exemplified our season. We got off to a great start and then we kind of hit the skids a little bit and we went into the room after the second and said, 'come on, let’s get it going.' They’re very resilient and a great group," he said, saying after the game it was great to see the players celebrating. “This is what you crave for, not to win yourself but to watch the kids."
Barron credited the Lumberjacks on a great series and fighting to the end.
"We were up 3-0 in the series but that club is well coached, they’re a great group of kids, they’re very talented," said Barron. "We never for a second thought it was going to be easy and you saw tonight it wasn’t."
The Mariners were presented with their championship trophy and banner for winning the Eastlink South Division by MHL president Brian Whitehead. The Mariners now wait to see who they will play in the MHL final. Game 6 of the Eastlink North Division series will be played Monday evening. The Emundston Blizzard lead that series 3-2 over the Summerside Western Capitals.
UPDATE: That series went to a Game 7 with Edmundston winning 8-3 over Summerside.
The winner of the MHL final will move on to the 2018 Fred Page Cup Eastern Canadian Jr. A Championship, set to take place in Ottawa, Ontario, May 2-6.
HONOURING THE HUMBOLDT BRONCOS
Game 5 in Yarmouth started out on a somber note as tribute was paid to the Humboldt Broncos. That junior team from Saskatchewan suffered a devastating tragedy on Friday, April 6, when a truck collided with their bus that was taking the team to Game 5 of their playoff series. Fifteen people were killed and the others on the bus were injured. Those who lost their lives included 10 players, two coaches, the team's statistician, a radio play-by-play announcer and the bus's driver.
As the flag outside the Mariners Centre flew at half mast, inside a moment of silence was held with the Mariners and Lumberjacks players lined up as photos of the Humboldt Broncos team were displayed on the large video screen. Donations were also collected during the game for those affected by the tragedy. The teams also wore Humboldt Broncos stickers on their helmets, which the Mariners will wear for the rest of their season.
Mariners head coach Laurie Barron was friends with Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan who died in the crash.
"He’s one of the nicest individuals I’ve ever met. We got to know each other the last couple of years and just a prince of a man," Barron said. "He leaves behind a young family and a wife and my heart is broken. Honestly, I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s a tragic situation. And I think it affected the start of the game. Both teams are guys that do this every week and every weekend and I think everybody was touched.”
The tragedy hit close in the arena for another reason. South Shore Lumberjacks player McKullen Astill played with the Humboldt Broncos earlier in this season before being traded to Bridgewater.
After the Mariners series win, fans, parents and billet parents waited in the lobby to congratulate and celebrate with the Mariners.
MHL president Brian Whitehead said seeing and experiencing the atmosphere in the Mariners Centre really shows how important and beloved junior hockey is to communities and hockey towns.
“It’s a tragic, horrible loss, what happened in Humboldt. Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are with them and we’re going to do everything we can to help them get through this," he said. "There are no words or actions we can do to bring those boys or coaches back but we can be there to support them. One thing the Humboldt Broncos would want is the two teams to go out tonight and pay their respect and then play hard like they did and have a tight game in this series."
About the MHL playoffs in general, Whitehead said it's been a good run for everyone. He congratulated the Mariners on their win.
“What you want to see is good close games and tight series all along and the other thing you like to see is 1,501 people packed in the rink on a Sunday night," he said. “The enthusiasm from the crowd when the Mariners pulled it out was amazing. It’s a very well supported team by the community and a very healthy franchise and they deserve the success that they’ve had this year.”
LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL SCHEDULE
• Game 1: Saturday, April 14, 7:30 p.m. in Edmundston
• Game 2: Sunday, April 15, 7:30 p.m. in Edmundston
• Game 3: Thursday, April 19, 7 p.m. in Yarmouth
• Game 4: Friday April 20th 7:30 PM Yarmouth
• Game 5 (if needed): Sunday, April 22 3 p.m. in Edmundston
• Game 6 (if needed): Tuesday, April 24, 7 p.m. in Yarmouth
• Game 7 (if needed): Thursday, April 26, 7:30 p.m. in Edmundston