AMHERST – The Ramblers have gone from the brink of elimination to, dare it be said, a favourite to win their best-of-three first-round Maritime Junior A Hockey League playoff series.
The Bridgewater Lumberjacks appear to be a good matchup for the bordertowners, with Amherst having won four of five regular-season meetings, including two in three trips to the south shore town, site of Game 1 today at 7 p.m.
Amherst squandered a 4-2 third-period lead in its lone loss in Bridgewater, 5-4 on Nov. 8 in the Ramblers’ third game in as many days.
“They have a small rink, and some teams might be worried about that,” said Ramblers goalie Jon Waye (18-23-1-1, 3.53 goals-against average). “But we’ve had some success there and we know we can play well in their building, so that will be a big mental factor in our favour.”
Bridgewater has more offensive depth, with 179 regular-season goals to Amherst’s 148 and eight players with 10 or more goals to the Ramblers’ five. The Lumberjacks also added forward Shawn Frank (28 points in 16 games) at Christmastime.
But Bridgwater has been subpar defensively, its 213 goals allowed ranking second-worst in the league. Goaltenders Travis Hall and Philip Wright have averages of 4.00 and 4.35, respectively. Amherst has scored 29 times in those five meetings with the Lumberjacks.
The differnce between these teams in power-play and penalty-killing efficiency during the regular season was marginal. Amherst and Bridgewater were the two most penalized teams in the Bent Division this season.
“We have had some success against them, but playoffs are another whole season,” said Ramblers head coach and general manager Corey Crocker.
“They played some great hockey down the stretch and they have a lot of veteran guys who have been through a lot of playoff battles in this league, and we have to be conscious of that.”
In a longer series, the first game sometimes doesn’t mean all that much. But there is no such luxury here, with tonight’s winner halfway home to a quarterfinal matchup with the Truro Bearcats.
“A lot of people had us counted out,” said Crocker. “But we’re here, and we deserve to be.”
Game 2 goes Thursday at the Stadium at 7:30 p.m. A third game if necessary is scheduled for Friday in Bridgewater at 7 p.m.