Offseason begins following Game 7 loss to Crushers
Coming their third consecutive playoff appearance, the Amherst Ramblers are looking ahead to the 2014-15 MHL season.
© Christopher Cameron - TC Media
Members of the Pictou County Weeks Crushers and the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers shake hands after Game 7 in New Glasgow on Saturday. The Crushers ended the Ramblers’ season with a 3-2 win and will move on to face the Truro Bearcats in the Eastlink Division final series.
AMHERST – Amid the disappointment of an early exit from the playoffs, Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers coach Jim Bottomley can’t help but be optimistic of the team’s future.
After finishing near the bottom of the division for several years, the Ramblers finished their third consecutive year in the playoffs and battled a tough Weeks Crushers club through a seven-game Eastlink Division semifinal series.
“When I came here three years ago I said I wanted to develop a winning culture. We just finished our third straight year in the playoffs and things are already looking good for next season,” Bottomley said following the Game 7 3-2 loss to the Crushers. “We want to take steps each year knowing that one of these years we’re going to pull it off.”
The Weeks Crushers are advancing to the Eastlink Division final against the Truro Bearcats after David Stephens’ goal midway through the third period lifted them to the win.
“It was a heck of a series, it came down to one period and a goal that came off a turnover, ” Bottomley said. “The good thing is the guys never quit, they battled hard right to the end, but we just couldn’t get a bounce or a break to go our way.
“They’re a very talented hockey club and our guys battled these guys to the very end.”
Stephens’ goal game just over eight minutes after the Ramblers tied the game at 2-2 when Justin Thomas knocked home a rebound in front of Crushers’ goalie Brandon Thibeau.
After the Ramblers failed to convert on a three-on-two, Stephens grabbed the puck in his own zone, skated the length of the ice and fired a high shot over the shoulder Richard Tingley for the eventual winner.
The Ramblers enjoyed a man advantage late, but they could find the equalizer.
“We came and battled these guys hard all the way. They are a good hockey team and so are we,” Bottomley said. “We played as a family all season and throughout the series and there’s a lot of emotion in that dressing room right now with all the guys who are leaving.”
Amherst opened the scoring in the second period when Daniel Walsh wrapped the puck around Thibeau just 3:50 into the middle frame, but the Crushers scored two goals 45 seconds apart to take the lead into the dressing room after two periods.
First Nick Parker stripped the puck from Ramblers’ defenceman Kyle Beckwith and went in untouched to beat Tingley and then he was left by himself in front of the Rambler goalie.
“We battled up to the last minute. It’s a tough game to lose,” Ramblers’ captain Cam McDonald said. “We are a good hockey team, but it was the seventh game and someone had to lose. We gave it everything we had and came up just a little short.”
Looking ahead, Bottomley said there’s a solid nucleus of returning players including goalie Billy Clarke, forwards Daniel Walsh, Zack MacEwan, Ryan Caswell, Serge Boisvert, Nick Cass and Ross Martin, while Willie MacDonald, Travis Howe, Kyle Beckwith and Shane MacDonald are back on defence.
Also eligible to return is forward Keegan Marcott, who joined the team just before the playoffs after playing high school hockey in Cape Breton.
“We have a solid nucleus with lots of experience coming back and we have five or six guys playing in the Q that we expect to be back here next season,” Bottomley said. “We’re going to start right away to make some moves and add some key guys and then we’ll be looking forward to having a strong draft.”
Unlike last year, when Bottomley was working on a one-year deal with the club, the coach will be entering the second year of a two-year contract.