Members of the St. Marys Lincolns watch as the Leamington Flyers celebrate their Western Conference Championship after the Flyers won the Bill Weir Trophy last Thursday night. (Photo credit: Mike Chennette/McGinny Photography)
By Spencer Seymour
The St. Marys Lincolns gave their fans one more thrilling win on home ice last Tuesday night but back on the road, with their Captain suspended, the Lincs simply were overpowered by the incredibly skilled Leamington Flyers, who came away with the Bill Weir Trophy as this year’s Western Conference Champions.
Leamington will now advance to the Sutherland Cup Championship round-robin to meet the Midwest Champion Stratford Warriors and Golden Horseshoe Champion Hamilton Kilty B’s. The teams who finish first and second in the round-robin will then battle in a three-game series for the Sutherland Cup.
Stratford defeated the Kitchener-Waterloo Siskins in six games to win the Cherrey Cup, while Hamilton swept the underdog Caledonia Corvairs to claim the Golden Horseshoe Championship. Caledonia got to the Golden Horseshoe Conference Final by upsetting the defending Sutherland Cup Champion St. Catharines Falcons.
Veterans shine in Game Four comeback
With the season and their junior careers on the line, several overage players dug deep and found a way to get the Lincolns into the win column, with three late goals that not only evoked the loudest response from the St. Marys fans of the season but also handed the Flyers their first and only loss of the playoffs.
It seemed as though the Flyers might find a way to once again narrowly hang on for a victory as the clock ticked down and a second-period goal by Owen Holmes remained the only goal on the board, while Bryce Walcarius continued to be stellar in the Flyers’ net. However, with five minutes and eight seconds left in the third, a hard-working shift by Adrian Stubberfield allowed Cole Schnittker to pick the puck out of a board battle and take it in front, firing it by Walcarius to tie the game at one apiece.
Head Coach Jeff Bradley admitted that, while he didn’t envision the tying goal coming in the form that it did, he was very relieved to get it nonetheless.
“I didn’t think that was going to be the shot that tied it,” said Bradley, alluding to his feelings that it would have taken more traffic in front or high-end puck movement to beat Walcarius with how well the former Lincolns’ netminder played throughout the series. “When that one went in, it opened things up for us and gave us some belief that we could score on this team.”
Schnittker’s goal began a momentum shift in the Lincolns’ favour that continued when William Van Sumeren took a penalty for head contact. On the ensuing powerplay, a point shot created havoc in front of the Leamington net with Jacob Chantler and Ethan Lamoureux on the doorstep. Eventually, Lamoureux buried the loose puck to put the Lincs ahead 2-1.
With 11 seconds left in the game, Nathan Small lofted the puck from his own zone into an empty net to seal the deal and give the Lincs a 3-1 victory. Matteo Lalama was fabulous for the Lincolns, making 40 saves in the winning effort.
Bradley, who was happy with his team’s performances throughout the series, said that it felt good to finally get in the win column, especially when the series could have easily been tied or even led by the Lincolns through four games.
“Both teams play extremely well defensively. It’s a really tight battle that could quite conceivably be tied at two or 3-1 for us. It’s not like the first two rounds when Leamington was scoring five, six, or seven goals every game and most of the games were blowouts. It’s a different story when every game is 3-1 with an empty netter.”
In their first two series against Sarnia and LaSalle, the Flyers scored four goals or more every game and only had two periods in which they failed to score a non-empty-net goal. In the Conference Final against St. Marys, Leamington had 10 periods in which they didn’t score a goal with Lalama on the ice. The Lincolns also held Leamington to three goals or less in four of the five games.
Flyers claim West title in Game Five
Lamoureux wasn’t available for Game Five in Leamington due to a four-game suspension for a hit into the boards on Flyers’ forward Kale Couvillon in Game Four. Bizarrely, the request for a review of the hit was made after the league-mandated deadline of 8:00 a.m. the following day, and yet, the GOJHL appeared to disregard their own policy and proceed with suspending Lamoureux.
The Lincs had to try to shake off their Captain’s absence and despite having two periods in which they held the Flyers scoreless, a feat that St. Marys managed every game of this series not including empty-net goals, Leamington’s three-goal second period was enough to propel them to a 3-1 win and the Bill Weir Trophy.
Once again, Holmes scored for the Flyers, this time just 57 seconds in the middle frame for the game’s first goal. Hayden Reid followed that up at the 5:18 mark of the period to make it 2-0 Flyers, before Connor MacPherson banked a pass off of the stick of a crouching Grayden Strohack, who was attempting to block MacPherson’s pass into the slot, and into the net at 14:44 of the second.
In the third, the Lincolns, refusing to give up, got on the board thanks to a powerplay goal by Michael Elliston. Lalama made 30 stops in between the pipes.
After having time to digest the final result, Bradley talked to the Independent and while he was sad that the season was over, he wasn’t at all disappointed in his group.
“I don’t like to say ‘proud’ because I’m not sure that I’m old enough to say that, but I am really, really happy with the way our team played and our year as a whole. There was no team in our area in the conference that came close to the post-season success that we had, and that’s huge for this organization. Honestly, with all that these guys have battled through, I’m in awe of the players.”
Bradley also had high praise for the Flyers, who he has seen first-hand pushing harder and trying to reach this level of success for several years.
“They’re truly a great team. I reached out to Dale [Mitchell, Leamington’s Head Coach] the day after we got beat as I didn’t get enough time after the game to tell him what I felt about his team. I needed a bit of time to reflect on it first and you look at the way that team played top to bottom, there was never an easy shift against Leamington. You had to bring your best every single shift and if you didn’t, you would be in trouble.
“When you look at professional, amateur, or junior sports teams, you respect greatness and teams who are able to achieve greatness. It’s also a good lesson for us. I’ve been in this league for seven years and I’ve seen them continuously building up and getting to the point they reached on Thursday. They were always knocking on the door and they finally achieved their goal, and hopefully, we can look at that as a lesson for us going forward.”
Bradley also admitted that the absence of Lamoureux hurt the team, but that he was impressed with how rookie forward Jimmy Schiedel was able to play despite having less time than usual to prepare.
“Losing our Captain and one of our best players was definitely a tough pill to swallow and a tough way to go into an elimination game, but the nice thing about our team and the way we play is everyone knows how we need to play and we did as best we could.”
“Having to wait as long as we had to on the suspension news put us at a bit of a disadvantage preparation-wise, but I was really impressed with Jimmy’s ability to step in and be a solid contributor on such short notice.”
In next week’s Independent, we’ll have an expanded look-back on the Lincolns’ season with the Head Coach.