By Spencer Seymour
Despite plenty of strong play, the St. Marys Lincolns found themselves heading into Tuesday’s game against the Leamington Flyers on the brink of elimination.
The first three games of the series have all been closely contested despite the Flyers heading into Tuesday’s game at the PRC with a 3-0 series lead. The Lincolns have stifled the highly potent Flyers’ offence in a way that Sarnia and LaSalle didn’t come close to doing in the quarter- and semi-finals.
In their first eight playoff games, Leamington scored five goals or more in seven of those contests. In the Western Conference Final, the Flyers haven’t scored five goals in any of the first three games.
Additionally, in the first two rounds, Leamington only had two periods in which they didn’t score at least one non-empty-net goal. In this series, the Lincolns and Matteo Lalama have kept the Flyers from scoring with the Lincs’ netminder in goal in six of the nine periods.
Sleepy first sinks Lincolns in Game One
With one of the best periods played by any GOJHL team this season, the Flyers scored three in the first period of Game One, en route to a 4-0 victory over St. Marys. Adrian Bosev scored at the 7:32 mark of the opening frame, followed a few minutes later by goals from Hayden Reid and Connor MacPherson. Reid and MacPherson’s goals came just 18 seconds apart.
Head Coach Jeff Bradley told the Independent that it seemed as though the Lincolns were playing with a bit too much respect for the Flyers in the first.
“We played as if we were in awe of them in the first period,” said Bradley. “Before the game, they get a bunch of awards presented to them and we treated them as if they were the best team to ever play the game. Leamington, just as expected, came out and played like they let something slip last year and wanted it badly this year. Basically, we were just spectators in the first.”
The Lincs were able to bounce back after their disappointing opening period and play a better second and third period, but they weren’t able to create many high-danger scoring chances. Bosev added an empty netter with nine seconds left in the third. Bradley said his team struggled to get their forecheck operating at the degree they needed it to.
“Against Strathroy and London, we established a really good forecheck. Our first forward in chases the puck and our second and third forwards add pressure. When we have a good forecheck, I know we’re engaged. We did a better job in the second and third periods, but we just couldn’t score.”
Bryce Walcarius earned the shutout in goal for Leamington with 29 saves.
Puck bounces favour Flyers in Game Two
A highly competitive, evenly-matched Game Two seemed like it could go either way 24 hours later back at the PRC, but once again, the Flyers came away with the win. Bradley said he couldn’t have asked for much more from his players.
“We played good enough to win. Our guys played their guts out and got some opportunities but some unfortunate bounces didn’t go our way. Their two goals both came off of some unfortunate bounces and we had some really good opportunities that we just barely missed on.”
The Head Coach said that there wasn’t anyone who he felt had a poor game for the Lincs.
“Our whole team was really good. Matteo [Lalama] had a great game. The second goal was definitely unfortunate but I didn’t think it was his fault. It looked like he tracked it well and the puck skipped on him. He made some critical stops for us. Our penalty killers came up big. Cole [Schnittker], Adrian [Stubberfield], and all of our penalty kill guys were really good. Luca [Spagnolo] and Ethan [Lamoureux] were awesome and created some really good chances.”
“I have no issue with how anyone played and how our team played as a group. We played a really good game for pretty much 60 minutes. We were a post away in the first and a crossbar away in the third from that being a different result.”
In response to a first period that saw the Lincolns giving up too much time and space in centre ice, the team changed their protection strategy before their blueline which Bradley felt worked very well.
“We made an adjustment in the neutral zone after Game One. We thought they sliced right through us in the first game in Leamington and we gave up the red line way too easily. We adjusted how we were defending the neutral zone and it really helped us.”
Just under halfway through the first period, Luca Spagnolo got the game’s first goal with his second of the playoffs. Ethan Lamoureux knocked the puck out of the air near the Flyers’ blueline, which Chase MacQueen-Spence was able to hunt down on the right wing before feeding it into the slot where Spagnolo tipped it in behind Walcarius.
Both Walcarius and Matteo Lalama had 39-save performances in Game Two.
Spagnolo’s goal drew a huge reaction from the jam-packed PRC, which saw 1,153 spectators filling the arena. Bradley credited the Lincolns’ fans as being a major factor in this team getting this far in the playoffs.
“It’s exciting for the players and coaches but I’m sure it’s just as exciting, if not more, for the fans. It’s April and St. Marys is still getting to watch meaningful hockey, I hope they’re enjoying it as much as we are. We enjoy the atmosphere they create for us and really appreciate the support. The guys get up for that and honestly, the fans are a huge part of us getting to this point.”
In the second period, Owen Holmes had a loose puck find him in centre, springing him for a breakaway which he buried for his eighth of the playoffs. Nine-and-a-half minutes later, Bosev slapped a bouncing puck towards the net which appear to take an unexpected bounce off the ice and get past Lalama.
The Lincolns continued to push until the last moment of the third period but the Flyers managed to hang on for the 2-1 victory.
Flyers storm back to take Game Three
In the first two periods of Game Three, the Lincolns outplayed Leamington, with smothering defence and continued lockdown play in the neutral zone. However, penalty trouble in the third period allowed the Flyers to take control of the game.
“The powerplays allowed them to get a wave of momentum in their favour and they were able to ride it and exploit one or two mistakes that we made,” said Bradley. “I’m happy with the way we’re playing, we just are having a hard time getting a lot of good scoring chances because Leamington does such a good job in front of their net preventing those opportunities.”
“Every game, we’ve gotten a bit better. In the first two periods, I thought we really outplayed them and we probably deserved better than what we got. But, when you’re playing a team of that calibre, you know there’s going to be some pushback and in the third, they capitalized on their chances and we didn’t.”
Bradley said that, in the first two periods especially, the team’s revised neutral zone structure was executed to a tee, which was even more impressive considering the larger ice surface in Leamington.
“We started making that adjustment in the neutral zone in Game Two and it worked well for us but to see our guys be able to execute on the bigger ice in Leamington was great to see. We made it hard on Leamington to take the red line and dump it in.”
Once again, the Lincolns got the game’s first goal, with Ethan Lamoureux burying a rebound just 16 seconds into the second period after a pair of strong drives to the net by MacQueen-Spence and Jacob Chantler.
In the third, however, the Flyers surged back. A powerplay marker goal by Connor MacPherson tied the game at one apiece just one minute and 19 seconds into the period. Almost exactly 12 minutes later, William Van Sumeren shook off his defender and roofed the puck over Lalama’s shoulder to make it 2-1. Trevor LaRue added an empty-net goal with 1:50 left in the third to seal the 3-1 win for the Flyers.
Game Four took place on Tuesday night after the Independent went to press.
St. Marys Lincolns’ Captain Ethan Lamoureux gets a scoring chance in front of the Leamington Flyers net during Game Two of the Western Conference Final. (Photo credit: Mike Chennette/McGinny Photography)