Lapointe earns Hurley Memorial Trophy as Ramblers MVP
AMHERST, N.S. – Matt Lapointe is quick to deflect the accolades that have come his way this season.
Series opens Thursday in New Glasgow, back in Amherst on Saturday
Felix LeBlanc and the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers will open the 2017 playoffs on Thursday night in New Glasgow against the defending champion Weeks Crushers.
©Dave Mathieson - TC Media
AMHERST, N.S. – As the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers prepare to enter their first playoff run in three seasons they can’t help but think of the classic tale of David vs. Goliath.
The Ramblers begin their best-of-seven Eastlink South Division semifinal series on Thursday night in New Glasgow. It’s the club’s first playoff appearance since the Crushers eliminated them in seven games in 2014 – a loss that cost Jim Bottomley his job as coach and general manager of the Ramblers.
The biggest thing is we have to play our game and not worry about what they do. We have a good team, but sometimes we beat ourselves this year. As long as we don’t do that I will be proud no matter what happens. Jeff LeBlanc, coach and GM of the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers
It has been a long road back to the playoffs for the Ramblers, and while the Crushers finished 12 points ahead of Amherst in the standings, Jeff LeBlanc – who’s in his second season behind the Ramblers’ bench – says his players are ready.
“It has been a long year and a half to get here,” LeBlanc said. “You coach for the playoffs and it’s so nice to win in the playoffs. We’re ready to go.”
The Crushers, who won the Kent Cup last spring over the Dieppe Commandos, brought back 11 players from that championship team and added forward Bradley Kennedy from the Halifax Mooseheads just before the MHL trading deadline on Jan. 10.
They were first in goals for and tied for first in goals against with a 31 per cent power play efficiency and a high-powered offence led by Michael Dill’s 90-point performance.
“They are a very good team and it’s going to take a very good effort to beat them,” LeBlanc said. “It’s going to take a very good defensive effort and good goaltending, but special teams may decide it. We have to be disciplined. We simply have to stay out of the penalty box. That’s going to be key.”
While bad penalties have been an Achilles heel for the Ramblers, LeBlanc said things have improved with his players skating away from situations where they would’ve taken penalties before.
“We lost some points because of bad penalties and the boys know that, but the last few games they seem to have turned the page on that and shied away from a few incidents on Saturday and Sunday,” LeBlanc said. “I know they will try to ruffle our feathers and get under our skin and we will do the same to them. The team that stays disciplined will win.”
The Crushers dominated the Ramblers during the regular season, taking the first five meetings before Amherst nipped the Crushers in New Glasgow on Feb. 12.
“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at video of their systems and line combinations, but at the end of the day it’s a whole new season. The regular season means nothing. It’s what you do now,” he said. “The biggest thing is we have to play our game and not worry about what they do. We have a good team, but sometimes we beat ourselves this year. As long as we don’t do that I will be proud no matter what happens.”
After two years out of the playoffs, and a slow start this season, the Ramblers were one of the league’s hottest teams down the stretch, especially through January and February – including an eight-game winning streak coming out of the Christmas break.
The team got solid scoring from Jordan King, Matt Lapointe and Brandon Kosik, while adding defenceman Josh Fitzgerald and forwards Matt Cusson and Grant Janes at the deadline, not to mention getting Ryan MacDonald in the lineup.
Team captain Chad Bannister is finishing his third season with the Ramblers. It will be h is first playoff experience in the MHL.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and staying out of the box,” Bannister said. “They have one of the best power plays in the league and they have a very good team, but we know in that dressing room that we can beat them in the playoffs.”
Tale of the Tape
Amherst Ramblers vs. Pictou County Weeks Crushers
Game 1 – Thursday, March 16, 7 p.m., Pictou County Wellness Centre
Game 2 – Saturday, March 18, 7 p.m., Amherst Stadium
Game 3 – Monday, March 20, 7 p.m., Pictou County Wellness Centre
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 22, 7:30 p.m., Amherst Stadium
*Game 5 – Friday, March 24, 7 p.m., Keating Millennium Centre, Antigonish
*Game 6 – Saturday, March 25, 7 p.m., Amherst Stadium
*Game 7 – Tuesday, March 28, 7 p.m., Pictou County Wellness Centre
Sept. 8 – Crushers 5 Ramblers 2
Oct. 1 – Crushers 8 Ramblers 4
Nov. 5 – Crushers 7 Ramblers 3
Nov. 24 – Crushers 4 Ramblers 2
*Feb. 8 – Crushers 7 Ramblers 2
Feb. 12 – Ramblers 4 Crushers 3
* Broke Ramblers’ eight-game winning streak
Regular Season Records
Crushers (1st in division, 1st overall in league) 38-9-2-1-79 points
Ramblers (4th in division, 5th overall in league) 31-14-3-2-67 points
Crushers: Michael Dill (32-58-90), Alexis Roy (37-52-89), Dylan Riley (25-44-69)
Ramblers: Jordan King (30-50-80), Matt Lapointe (34-40-74), Brandon Kosik (19-20-48)