AMHERST – Yogi Berra once said it’s like déjà vu all over again.
A year after the Yarmouth Mariners battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers in the seventh game to win the Eastlink Division final, the two teams will meet again starting Saturday as the divisional semifinal opens in Yarmouth.
“It’s going to be a great series,” Ramblers coach Jim Bottomley said Thursday. “You have two teams that are evenly matched and have a lot of playoff experience. It’s one of those series where every game could be decided by a goal and it could either go four or seven”
The Ramblers, who presented the season hardware on Wednesday night, were on the ice again last night in preparation for the series that will be a test of stamina as much as hockey ability.
The series will alternate back and forth between the two towns with Game 2 on Tuesday in Amherst and Game 3 in Yarmouth on Thursday. Game 4 is next Saturday back in Amherst.
Saturday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. CKDH 101.7 FM will have live play-by-play action with the pre-game show starting at about 7:20 p.m.
Amherst enters the series on a four-game losing streak, dropping two games to the Weeks Crushers and the Summerside Western Capitals. In fairness to the Ramblers, Bottomley rested a number of players once it was determined Amherst would finish in the third place.
While Robert Davis and Jeff MacPherson will sit out Saturday with suspensions (Davis has two games left, MacPherson one), everyone else is expected to return to the lineup with the exception of rookie forward Josh Pugsley who continues to deal with an upper body injury suffered several weeks ago against Bridgewater.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. The boys worked hard all week and are chomping at the bit to get started,” Bottomley said. “We’ve been working a lot of game situations into the drills and workouts to make sure no rust develops but they are in the same boat we are. They haven’t played in a week either.”
While the Mariners feature a potent offence – including veteran forwards Colin Campbell and Jared Hicks and newcomer Brandon Bussey – Bottomley likes his club’s chances, saying it’s not limited to a couple of players, but is spread out over four lines.
While captain Kody Orr led the team in scoring and second-year forward Maxime Richard was close behind, Bottomley said the team has enjoyed balanced scoring from Ben Berisha, Jacob Conrad, Danny Harquail, and MacPherson.
Bottomley said the club’s blueline should be bolstered with the return of Jamie Bishop, who has been out for a couple of weeks after suffering an injury against the Crushers. He has also been pleased with the play of veteran goalie Richard Tingley and rookie Chase Marchand.
“We need to bring a never-say-die attitude to the rink every game and play a physical game,” Bottomley said, adding playoff time is when the veterans need to elevate their games. “For most of them they’re playing their last games in junior hockey and they have to make the most of it. I still believe that if our 20-year-olds outplay their 20-year-olds we will win the series.”