FORMER OAKVILLE BLADE JOSH KOSACK EARNS NCAA UNSUNG HERO A...
Date: Apr 10, 2021
The Central Canadian Hockey League finals had been a series that favoured the home team in the first five games. Neither the Newmarket Hurricanes nor the Bowmanville Eagles were able to recapture the magic they found in their home rinks when they took their shows on the road. That trend, however, came to an end in game six when the Hurricanes finally came alive at the Garnett B. Rickard Recreational Complex in Bowmanville to earn a convincing 5-1 victory and clinch the CCHL Championship four games to two.
Hurricanes’ Head Coach Brian Perrin felt that fatigue started to play a factor as the series went on. The fact that Newmarket played only one game more than the minimum through the first three rounds – five games against the St. Michael’s Buzzers coupled with two four game series sweeps of the Hamilton Red Wings and Burlington Cougars – Perrin felt was a big advantage to the Hurricanes.
The Eagles, while they swept the Ajax Attack in the first round, had to battle back from a two games to nothing deficit against the Peterborough Stars in the second round and knock off an always gritty Wellington Dukes’ squad in the third round on their journey to the finals.
“I think the biggest difference (in tonight’s road game compared with games two and four) was that fatigue was starting to set in for both teams,” said Perrin. “They (the Eagles) had a rougher go of it to get to the finals and I think we were able to take advantage of it. Solid goaltending, as usual, was a key for us.”
Jimmy Sarjeant was his usual brilliant self making forty four of forty five stops including several key saves when a Bowmanville goal could have paved the way for the Eagles to climb back into the game. Never was he better than the first ten minutes of the third period when the Hurricanes were under siege in their own zone with only a two goal cushion.
“I think we came out too emotional and too high and we were overplaying the puck and making some bad plays,” said Perrin, explaining the let down in the first half of the third period. “We took a couple of bad penalties and we were able to kill them off and stay focused but again, we made mistakes yet Jimmy (Sarjeant) made the big saves for us and kept us in it.”
The Eagles opened the scoring early in the first period, thrilling a packed house at the Garnett B. Rickard Recreational Complex, when Michael Markovic took advantage of a Hurricanes’ neutral zone turnover and beat Sarjeant with a good wrist shot to the high blocker side on a breakaway. Jarrod Connolly responded though for the Hurricanes at the 16:07 mark to tie the game at one goal apiece heading into the first intermission.
Bowmanville got into penalty trouble early in the second period, presenting the Hurricanes with a five on three man advantage. Kevin Balas made sure his team did not squander the opportunity, scoring his eighth goal of the postseason at the 2:03 mark. Balas’ goal would ultimately stand up as the game winner.
“It sounds great,” said Balas, when asked how it felt to know he scored the game winning goal in the clinching game of the CCHL finals. “ I was at the side of the net on that five on three and it came out to me so luckily I got enough wood on it to get it over his (Eagles’ netminder Jackson Teichroeb) shoulder. It was a big one for us.”
Just over five minutes later, Balas struck again, this time with an unassisted marker to provide some insurance.
After a starting the postseason somewhat slowly with only two goals through the first two rounds, Balas found a gear in the third round against the Burlington Cougars and never looked back putting up nine goals in ten games. It was his ability to produce secondary scoring to support the line of Chad Sumsion, Tyler Sikura and Jarrod Connolly that gave the Hurricanes a whole new dimension for opponents to worry about.
“It feels really good; I think our line really stepped up in this series,” said Balas. “We couldn’t rely on Sumsion’s line the whole time so me and Willy (John Williamson) and (Braeden) Rigney sat down and we knew we had to capitalize on our chances. I think we did a good job of that this series.”
Jarrod Connolly was credited with his second goal of the game at the 9:07 mark of the third period when miscommunication between Teichroeb and an Eagles’ defenseman behind the net led to a turnover that ended up in the Eagles’ net, virtually killing any chance of a comeback, especially after Bowmanville had dominated the third period up until that point. Down by three goals, the Eagles gambled by pulling Teichroeb in favour of six attackers when they went on the power play at the 14:52 mark but that decision backfired when Bowman Webster scored into the empty net to give Newmarket a 5-1 lead.
Admittedly, Captain Chad Sumsion explained that he did not know what to expect when the Hurricanes assembled for training camp back at the end of last summer. However, he said his faith in the group that was put together only grew as the season went on.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into training camp but as soon as I met everybody and started getting to know all the boys on the team, I really had a lot of faith in this team,” said Sumsion, who led the Hurricanes in scoring through the CCHL playoffs with twenty eight points. “Throughout the year, we came together, all twenty three guys and I really had a lot of faith in the boys in this room.”
All throughout the season, the Hurricanes were among the top defensive teams in the CCHL. When Perrin and the rest of the coaching staff including Steve Sedore and Kent Hutton implemented a solid defensive system early on in the fall, Sumsion explained that it allowed the players to get comfortable with it as the season went on, eliminating any uncertainty once the playoffs arrived.
“I think the coaching staff wanted to implement a playoff style from the beginning and it definitely helped us come playoff time,” said Sumsion. “Our game never changed all year, there were minor details that we adjusted but for the most part, we stuck to the same game since September so it definitely made it easier come this time of the year.”
Systems and coaching tactics can only go so far though. If the players refuse to buy in, the best systems and the best coaches will not make any difference. That was never an issue though for the Hurricanes as it seemed very clear what the goal was of each player on their roster. Simply, it was to win hockey games regardless of who played the starring role.
“That’s exactly right,” said Sumsion, when asked if the goal, above all else, was just to win games. “Nobody cares who the star is here. This is by far the closest group of guys that I’ve ever played with; there are no cliques or separate groups or anything like that. It’s twenty plus guys coming to the rink every day, everybody gets along with everybody and it’s a great feeling.”
For the Eagles, starting the season, according to Head Coach Curtis Hodgins, in rebuilding mode, getting to game six of the CCHL finals is a noble accomplishment, especially in doing so with one of the youngest rosters in the league.
“Anybody who would have told me we’d have got to where we did back in August, I would have laughed at them,” said Hodgins. “This was a full rebuilding plan for us this year; we started with fifteen seventeen and sixteen year olds on this roster at the start of the year. To be in the fourth round and go six games with Newmarket is pretty special. These guys overachieved all year, winning the regular season crown was an accomplishment in itself and then to go this far, I’m pretty proud of our guys.”
Despite the youth on their roster, the Eagles, not unlike the Hurricanes, founded their success on buying into the system put in place and relying on solid goaltending.
“We played as a team; we bought into our system from about November 1st on,” explained Hodgins. “We didn’t lose a whole lot of hockey games because the guys finally bought into it. We didn’t give up much, very similar to Newmarket, we won a lot of 2-1, 3-1 games which has always been kind of our stable here in Bowmanville. The guys played together, we got great goaltending, and it’s been a wonderful year.”
The Newmarket Hurricanes will now await the winner of game seven in the OJAHL Finals between the Oakville Blades and the Kingston Voyageurs which will be played on Wednesday night. Newmarket and the winner of the OJAHL series will compete for the OHA's Buckland Cup Trophy. The winner of the Buckland Cup advances to the Central Canadian Championships Dudley-Hewitt Cup to be held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in late April.