Open best-of-three first round tomorrow in Bridgewater
AMHERST – It was a surreal Saturday night at the Stadium.
The Ramblers pulled out a 4-3 victory over the Truro Bearcats, then spent a tense half-hour sequestered in their dressing room awaiting word on their Maritime Junior A Hockey League playoff fate, which now rested in the hands of the Halifax Lions.
When word reached the Ramblers that the Lions had beaten the Yarmouth Mariners 3-1, thus giving the final playoff berth in the Bent Division to the bordertowners, a cheer arose among 21 hockey players that sounded a lot like those coming from all corners of the country yesterday.
Amherst and Yarmouth finished with 42 points apiece, but the Ramblers controlled the tiebreaker with 20 wins to the Mariners’ 19 during the regular season
“I’ve never been through anything like this, coaching or playing,” said Ramblers head coach and general manager Corey Crocker. “We crept in, but our kids took care of what they had to do and beat a very good team tonight.”
The Ramblers struck first on Kody Orr’s setup from Scott Bragg 8:21 after the opening faceoff, one of just four Amherst shots on goal in the period. Truro tied it a little more than seven minutes later on Ben MacAskill’s power-play goal.
Bragg’s big hit on Truro sniper Yuri Cheremetiev and subsequent tussle with Luke Cudmore gave the Ramblers a spark early in the second period and got the crowd of 710 into the game. Amherst converted its only power-play chance of the game less than two minutes later on a weird bounce off the boards behind Truro goalie Richard Gagnon, with Brandon Street getting credit at 3:18.
The Ramblers made it 3-1 on another funny carom off the boards. Jeremy Barron’s high shot ricocheted toward the crease and landed at Gagnon’s feet, and Barron poked it home at 14:46.
But Truro, with nothing to play for since clinching top spot in the Bent weeks ago, rallied on a man-advantage marker from Evan Watts and a rocket from Doug Burns two-and-a-half minutes apart in the third period. With the season on the line, the Ramblers called timeout to regroup.
The timeout worked, as Bragg and Orr clicked again at 9:17 for what proved to be the game-winner. Mitchell O’Neill, the third member of what is normally a shutdown checking and penalty killing group for the Ramblers, had the second assist.
“We had probably our worst game of the year (as a line) in Pictou on Tuesday,” said Bragg, referring to a 5-2 loss that took control of Amherst’s playoff destiny out of its hands. “And we got together and we said we had to bounce back, and not just for ourselves but for the team, because we owed the team a good game after that performance. I think we definitely bounced back tonight.”
Perhaps no one was more relieved in the Ramblers dressing room than Peter Baldwin, acquired from Yarmouth in December. The team's lone overager following the Jan. 10 trade of Adam Chipman and Derek Smith, Baldwin had his junior career extended by at least a couple more games.
“I’ve never played in the playoffs in this league,” said Baldwin. “This is just an unbelievable feeling.
“There’s a couple guys I feel for on Yarmouth, especially Carl Hayes, who’s their only 20 and we played together almost our whole life. But this is my team now, and everyone believed we could do it. No passengers at all, and a total team effort tonight.”
Amherst heads to Bridgewater tomorrow to begin the best-of-three mini-series with the Lumberjacks. Game 2 is Thursday at the Stadium at 7:30 p.m., with Game 3 if necessary Friday in Bridgewater. The winner gets Truro in the Bent Division semifinals.
The Ramblers have reserved a bus for fans for Game 1. Cost is $35 per person, which includes admission to the game. About 40 spots are available. Contact team president George Baker at 694-4950 or 667-5548 to book a seat.