AMHERST – A season of ups and downs, highs and lows will culminate beginning Wednesday when the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers open their best-of-seven Eastlink South Division semifinal series against the South Shore Lumberjacks in Bridgewater.
It will be a series between two evenly matched clubs that finished tied for second place with 66 points and finished dead even in the season’s head-to-head matchups.
“We’re ready to go. We had a team meeting tonight and the mood in the dressing room is great,” Ramblers’ coach and general manager Jeff LeBlanc said Monday night. “The boys are really excited and you can feel the energy. They’re ready to get this thing going.”
Game 2 of the series comes back to the Amherst Stadium on Saturday with Game 3 in Bridgewater on Monday, March 19. Game 4 is back in Amherst on Wednesday, March 21 with the Games 5 through 7 (if necessary) alternating back and forth between Amherst and Bridgewater on March 23, March 25 and March 26.
The Ramblers enter the playoffs with a healthy lineup. Jordan Renaud returned to action last weekend after being out a couple of weeks with an upper body injury.
Jordan King, who had 28 goals and 50 assists for 78 points in 50 games, will be called on to lead the club offensively, while Brady Griffen-Hefford (25-32-57), Liam Conrad (23-24-47), Layton Parsons (19-20-39), Will Bower (11-20-31) and Will Lafford (12-17-29) will also be called on to contribute to the offence.
Defensively, the club will be led by veteran Lucas Sangster as well as Jake Barter, who battled some injuries through the regular season, and third-year veteran Dawson Grenier, who picked up several key points last season in the opening round upset of the Pictou County Weeks Crushers.
Joel Goguen will be key in goal for the Ramblers after picking up the starters job when Cody Porter went down with a season-ending injury just after Christmas.
LeBlanc knows it’s going to be a long, tough series against a strong, gritty South Shore squad.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. They have a good team,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of video of them the last three to four weeks. They are a quick team and they get on you pretty fast. We’re going to have to slow then down by taking the body and get lots of shots on their goalies.”
The Lumberjacks are led by Logan O’Neil, who had 26 goals and 29 assists for 55 points, while Mateo Short scored 31 times and former Rambler Matt Paul had 38 points in 49 games to lead the team on defence.
In goal, Conor McCollum and MacKenzie Janes split time and had a 2.75 and 2.39 goals against average respectively.
“It’s a series that’s going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes and who wants it more,” LeBlanc said. “These are two evenly matched teams. The biggest thing for us to be consistent and not let the highs get too high and the lows get too low. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. You have to keep an even keel and worry about one game at a time.”