CLARENVILLE, N.L. — The Clarenville Ford Caribous fans at the Eastlink Events Centre (EEC) went through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the game four matchup against the Gander Flyers in the Central West Senior Hockey League (CWSHL) playoff finals on Sunday.
Gander were initially able to answer Saturday night’s loss in a big way, riding their precise power play to a secure lead but the Caribous became energized in the second, making for a thrilling matchup. What started as a one-sided game four ended as a closely contested and hard-hitting game, with Clarenville winning 7-4 to take a 3-1 series lead.
Minutes into the first period, the Flyers thought they had taken a 1-0 on the power play after a Justin Pender penalty for interference, however, the goal was disallowed because the net was off its moorings before it was buried in the top corner.
The score remained 0-0 for all of several seconds, as Gander’s Josh Fitzgerald finished a passing play while still on the man-advantage.
The Flyers continued to dominate the play with an extra attacker over the rest of the period, they added another power play marker when Brett Shute scored about five minutes later to take a 2-0 lead.
Following the goal, there was a scary moment as Caribou standout Kevin Reid took a hard hit and remained on the ice for several seconds. While Reid remained on the bench in the minutes following the spill, he didn’t play in the rest of the game. There was no penalty on the play.
Minutes later, Pender grabbed Shute and pummeled him while the officials tried in vain to split the two up. Both players received offsetting roughing penalties, while Pender was given an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct — served by Rod Mahoney.
In their third power play of the opening frame, Gander found the back of the net once again. This time, Thomas Hedges scored for the visitors, making the deficit 3-0 for Clarenville.
And with just over two minutes remaining in the first, Ryan Delaney was penalized for both a slashing and cross-checking infraction, totaling another four minutes in the box for the home side.
To begin the second, Caribous’ goaltender Jason Churchill replaced Tyler Whiffen — who had initially been given the start to the game. The ‘Bous began a run which would see them reverse their fortunes in the hopes of salvaging the game and series.
Once they killed the penalty, Clarenville potted their first goal of the game off a juicy rebound past Flyers’ goalie Doug Pippy — scored by Keith Delaney and assisted by Pender and Ryan Desrosiers.
Ryan Delaney pulled the ‘Bous within one goal as he stickhandled his way on a rush, firing a shot home much to the delight of an energized crowd.
The home fans battled quite a few Gander supporters throughout the afternoon with dueling “Go ‘Bous, go!” and “Go Flyers, go!” chants. But with the score still 3-2, the visiting spectators were drowned out by the home faithful as the Caribous fought hard for the tying marker.
The crowd was quieted once again about halfway through the second when ‘Bous forward Chris Sparkes was called for tripping. However, the EEC erupted as Ryan Delaney scored his second goal of the game on a shorthanded breakaway — evening the game.
If the tying goal’s reaction was loud, the arena became unglued when, after killing the penalty, Mason Reid scored to take a 4-3 lead.
Fans taunted the Flyers’ goalie with calls of “Pippy, Pippy…” after the netminder allowed four goals in just over 10 minutes of play.
While Gander’s coach Rick Sheppard called a timeout to settle his team, the Caribous continued the momentum, scoring again on a breakaway — this time Desrosiers — to take a two-goal lead, 5-3.
Before the end of the second, the Flyers showed life as Jordan Escott scored to make the game 5-4 heading into the final and deciding period.
Caribou forward Kenny Mahoney opened the scoring in the third, extending the Clarenville lead to 6-4.
From there, Clarenville bled the clock to hold on and secure their win — despite a disallowed breakaway goal due to a hooking call on the Caribous late in the game.
Ryan Delaney completed his hat trick with an empty-netter, making the final 7-4.
This upcoming weekend, the series will conclude with at least one, possibly as many as three, more games. Game five will be in Gander on Friday night, and game six — if necessary — will return to Clarenville. If the series needs a game seven, the two teams will play in Gander on Sunday afternoon.
Sheppard disappointed in loss, not team
Flyers’ head coach Rick Sheppard says, while he’s disappointed in the result of games three and four, he’s never been disappointed with the play on the ice and effort of his players.
“Our team is all heart and soul,” he said in an interview with The Packet. “We’ve had a lot of good things happen this year … for the most part, I’m disappointed with the loss but always proud of my team.”
Sheppard adds that they probably played a better game on Saturday night compared to Sunday’s game four, saying a 3-0 lead is “the worst lead in hockey.”
“Clarenville are a patient team and they capitalize on our mistakes a lot of the time … We lost a little control through the middle of the ice,” he says. “For the effort that we put in and the way our team plays, I’m very impressed.”
Sheppard says after coming so far this year, his message of positivity is still on the forefront of the team’s minds, as the series is certainly not over yet.
“They’ve still got to win one more and we’ve got to win three … We still have faith.”
Russell looks forward to game five in Gander
Caribous’ head coach Rebecca Russell says despite being down 3-0 in game four, they were able to pull out the win thanks to the determination of the players and staff.
“They got the bounces, they worked hard, they got the calls from the referees — whatever it was that was to go their way in the first period went their way,” Russell told The Packet after the game.
She says, during the first intermission, the team talked about how not every period can be perfect, and what they needed to do to turn it around — including never giving up.
“I’m super proud of the boys and our staff in that we stick to what we believe in and we were able to turn things around.”
But like a 3-0 lead in a game, a 3-1 series lead is not insurmountable, and Russell brought up how they were in the exact same situation last year in the CWSHL finals, up 3-1 against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts. The Caribous eventually won that series — but in seven games.
“We know that this is not even close to being over,” she said. “We know they’re not going to give in … We’re going to be ready for Friday night, and regroup here and get a couple days rest and hopefully be ready to bring our best game in Gander.”