By Pat Payton
Coach Trent McClement is expecting a close, hard-fought playoff series between two teams who play similar defensive styles.
McClement’s third-place St. Marys Lincolns (30-13-3-4) and the sixth-place Strathroy Rockets (19-26-3-2) open a best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final this Friday at the PRC, starting at 7:30 p.m. It will be the first Jr. ‘B’ playoff game in St. Marys since February, 2017 when Lincs faced the London Nationals, who took the first-round series in five games and went on to win the Western title.
Game 2 is Saturday at the West Middlesex Arena in Strathroy at 7:30 p.m. Game 3 is back at the PRC on Tuesday, Mar. 3 at 8 p.m.
Lincolns and Rockets played six, low-scoring games during the regular schedule, with Strathroy winning the season series 3-2-1. Lincs won once in Strathroy, while the Rockets won twice at the PRC. Overall, both teams scored 12 goals in their six meetings.
McClement expects the trend will continue and the playoff games will be low-scoring affairs.
“We’re a good team and we might have finished higher in the standings, but I think the games are going to be comparable to the regular season,” he told the Independent. “The team that is more undisciplined or gives up some 5-on-5 chances or makes more mistakes, those kinds of things are going to be huge in a series like this.”
And if last Friday’s game in St. Marys is any indication — with the teams combining for 90 penalty minutes in a feisty playoff preview — expect a rough, physical series.
Rockets tough at home
McClement also acknowledges that the smallish Strathroy arena won’t be an easy place to win a playoff game in. Traditionally, over the years, it’s never been easy beating the Rockets on their home ice.
“We won a game there last year, and we won a game there this year, but it’s a different building to play in,” he said. “You might have just played (on big ice surfaces) in London or Leamington and then you go into Strathroy.
“But in a series, I think it’s a lot easier to adjust because you’re playing there more. The boards are pretty lively in Strathroy, and I think you have to play a similar style to them. There’s a lot of attacking and speed in that little rink. I think it’s important for us to play the style we want to play and we’ll be fine. We’re definitely making adjustments for that rink, you have to. Anything in the offensive zone is a scoring chance because the end zones are so small in Strathroy.”
Even though Lincolns finished 24 points ahead of the Rockets, McClement admits that he’s expecting a long series with Strathroy.
“It’s a tough league, and you rarely see sweeps, so you’re always planning for a six-game series,” he said. “If Game 7 happens, it happens.
“I think our team has a lot of confidence going into the series. We haven’t had the best success against Strathroy, but they never blew us out in the regular season. We tied them 1-1 in Strathroy, and they beat us 1-0 in St. Marys.”
McClement says Lincs are healthy going into the playoffs. Only winger Mason Mantzavrakos, out with an unknown injury, is a question mark.
Expects tight-checking series
Rockets’ coach Jason Furlong expects a “tight-checking” series, similar to the games in the regular season.
“It’s about limiting mistakes and not giving up opportunities for the other team,” Furlong said before last Friday’s game in St. Marys. “Both teams are good hockey teams, and that will likely be the message from both coaching staffs.
“Obviously the playoffs are a completely different ball game. When you talk about playoffs, you have to make sure you’re playing the right way. It’s more about us and our process right now. We’re super happy with our group and we hope they can make some noise this year.”
Strathroy netminder Josh Diamond played five games against the Lincolns, and Lincs’ goalie Kyle Curtin played five times against the Rockets. Both posted 2-2-1 records in the season series.
In other conference quarter-finals, London Nationals will play Sarnia Legionnaires, Leamington Flyers will meet Komoka Kings, and LaSalle Vipers will square off against Chatham Maroons.
Jr. hockey notebook
–Prior to last Friday’s game against Strathroy, Lincolns honoured their six 20-year-old players who are finishing their Junior careers in St. Marys. Riley Coome, Thomas McLatchie, Cayse Ton, Ryan Brown, Brock Trichilo and Jake Robinson received individual plaques (with their name and sweater number) and posed for photos with family members.
–Last Friday, Lincs also thanked the local Service Clubs for helping make the ‘Town Worth Living In’ that much better. Representatives were on hand from: the Kinettes, Kinsmen, Lions, Rotary, Royal Canadian Legion, ANAF and the St. James Lodge.
–Lincolns recently honoured Nathan Small as their St. Marys Buick GMC Player-of-the-Month for January. The 17-year-old defenceman from Dorchester had two goals, seven assists and nine points in eight games last month.
Small led all St. Marys blue-liners in scoring with four goals and 36 points in 40 games, two more than fellow rearguard Riley Coome (7-27-34).