AMHERST - The CIBC Wood Gundy Fundy Phantoms have come a long way since the beginning of the Nova Scotia Junior C Hockey League season in October.
They were outscored 73-3 in their first four games of the season, with their lowest point being a 21-0 loss at the hands of the Eastern Shore Junior Mariners.
And although they played to a 7-1 loss to the league leading Mariners on Sunday in Musquodoboit, the fact they managed to make it a 3-1 game after the first two periods is a sure sign of a major turn-around.
“We held them off for two periods and they were throwing everything at us.” Phantoms owner Paul Morris said. “We didn’t have all our players because some were still away from university, and (goaltender) Tyler Ferdinand had a great game.”
Ferdinand, who played backup with the Junior B Atlantic championship winning Cumberland County Blues last season, faced 56 shots while his teammates generated 13 shots against Mariners goaltender Justin Mitchell.
Scoring for the Phantoms was Adam MacDonald, who scored in the second period off a pass from Myles Budd.
“New players have been a big difference in our success,” Morris said. “Goaltender Tyler Ferdinand has made a big difference, along with Adam MacDonald, Cole Wood, Scott Rose and Shane Dobson, who should be returning from a knee injury this weekend.”
Wood joined the Phantoms after starting the season with the Blues and was also part of the Blues team that won the Atlantic championship season last year.
“We’re also playing better thanks to players who have stuck it out,” Morris added. “Players like Chris Maltby have improved a lot since the beginning of the season.”
Discipline has also factored into the Phantoms turnaround.
They had only two penalties against the Mariners on Sunday.
“We are much more disciplined than we were when we started,” Morris said.
Morris said the Eastern Shore general manager told him after Sunday’s game that, “he couldn’t believe how we have turned around and are more competitive.”
During an interview in November, Morris said the NSJCHL caused a lot of grief by allowing two Junior C teams to play so close together in Cumberland County and he says it’s still a problem.
“It makes it really tight having four junior teams in Cumberland County,” Morris said. “There’s still the issue that the league caused but there aren’t many teams we can’t keep up with and I think we’re doing a good job.”
During that same November interview when everybody was counting the Phantoms out Morris said, “I’m not going down without a fight, I can tell you that, and you usually have to swing pretty hard to get me down and stay.”
Now that the Phantoms are finding their footing, Morris said the future looks bright for the team.
“We’re a good strong team with lots of returnees for next year,” Morris said. “We have two or three good lines with one good crunch line. They can make their destiny from here and we hope to make a good impression down the stretch. There’s still a race for the last playoff spot.”
That destiny may soon be decided through other means.
Last weekend, the Oxford Tim Hortons Colts were scheduled to host the New Waterford Jets but the Jets withdrew from the league before the game could be played.
“This was a result of their executive having problems raising money and paying their bills and only having 10 players who were committed for the rest of the season,” said Colts executive member Terry McManaman.
McManaman also said that league president Tom Foley will soon be making a decision concerning the remainder of the schedule early and that there will be a vote from the league teams to see the four remaining teams in the central division make the playoffs, and four out of the five teams in the South Division make the playoffs.
The Oxford Colts will carry on with their league schedule Saturday when they host the Avon River Rats at Oxford Arena.
Colts head coach Paul Atkinson said the Colts, “definitely want to stay in third place and avoid a playoff series with the defending Atlantic champion Eastern Shore Mariners.”
“Unfortunately Fundy will pick up six points as they were to play New Waterford three times in the second half, while we will receive four points as we were scheduled to play them twice in the second half,” Atkinson said. “When it is all finalized we will have a four-point lead over Fundy with two games on hand, and also a make up game with Fundy.”
With teams having until Jan. 10 to finalize their rosters the Colts still have three or four cards left, and Atkinson said they would try to improve their line right up to the Jan. 10 deadline.
The Phantoms are scheduled to host the Valley Fuelers Sunday at 8 p.m. at Amherst Stadium, while the Colts are scheduled to host the Avon River Rats Saturday at 8 p.m. The Colt travel to Brooklyn on Sunday where they play the second half of a home-and-home against the Rats.