With a playoff spot still within reach, the Valley Maple Leafs made a last ditch effort Saturday night against the Brookfield Elks and their perseverance paid off.
The Leafs showed no mercy, defeating the Elks 8-3. The win gave them 39 points on the season — enough to secure the last available playoff spot in the Fred Fox Division. They will now take on the division leaders, the Sackville Blazers, who finished the season with 42 points. The second and third place teams in the division, the Brookfield Elks and Bay Ducks — who have 41 and 40 points respectively — will also battle it out in the semi-finals.
The Eastern Shore Junior Mariners finished in 5th place with 38 points in the extremely tight Fred Fox Division. The East Hants Penguins were last, with 25 points for the year.
Josh Dill, the head coach for the Leafs, a first-year team in the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League, said the win felt great.
“The guys came out, they stuck together and I'm very proud for each and every one in that room,” said Dill, motioning to the dressing room following the game.
While they are in the process of ironing out the playoff schedule, three games in the semi-final series have been finalized. Game 1 is at the Sackville Arena tonight, Feb. 18, and Game 3 will be there on Monday, Feb. 25. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. On Thursday, Feb. 21, they will be in Berwick for Game 2. The game will start at 8 p.m.
Saturday night highlights
The Leafs needed to secure a win over the Brookfield Elks Feb. 16 and that's just what they did.
Andrew Squires started the scoring off for the Leafs, doing so halfway through the first period. About two minutes later, alternate captain Jory Uhlman potted one to make it 2-0 Leafs. Squires struck again at the 5:43 mark, then Brooklyn's Brandon Parker got on the scoreboard just 15 seconds later to give the Leafs a 4-0 advantage.
In the dying two minutes of the first period, Drew McNutt, assisted by Lucas Dawe and Connor Baker, managed to put one in. The Leafs led 4-1 heading into the second.
Luke Short, Brady Fisher, Colin Gillis, Jake Galbraith, Greg Brown, Mark Swain and Kyle Kavanagh all picked up assists in the first period.
The Brookfield Elks' Nick Carroll, assisted by Dawe and Andrew Kennedy, closed the gap to 4-2 at the start of the second period. With 2:12 left in the middle frame, James Shapeligh scored, assisted by Carroll. It appeared the game could go either way, until Gillis, with less than a second remaining on the clock, fired one past the Elks netminder to cement the Leafs' lead at 5-3.
Dill said the team “didn't look back” once Gillis potted the unassisted goal.
The Leafs scored three more times in the third period. Uhlman picked up the hat-trick, scoring the first two goals in the final frame, once unassisted. Craig Anderson finished the scoring with 2:39 remaining on the clock. Assists for this period went to Galbraith, Kavanagh and Parker. The final score was 8-3.
“Everyone played great,” said Dill.
“Our goaltender, Olafr Schmidt – I'm very happy to see him get a win. He's been playing great and just hasn't had any luck getting in the win column but he deserves to have a lot more wins. Very proud of him.”
Schmidt faced 25 shots on net, turning away 22. Spencer Scott and Dennis Nolan shared duties in nets for the Elks, with Scott being tagged with the loss. The total shots on net was 39.
The game marked the last regular season Junior B game for four of the Leafs: team captain Nathan Little, Austin Himmelman, Galbraith, and Uhlman.
Last place Blues upset Leafs
The Cumberland County Blues, the last place team in the Sid Rowe Division of the NSJHL, surprised the visiting Leafs Friday, Feb. 15, besting them 3-1.
The first period was scoreless. With 3:23 remaining in the second, Kevin Isherwood, on the power-play and assisted by Zachery Black and Aaron Crocker, managed to get on the scoreboard.
As the third period wound down, it was still anyone's game. But, the Blues got the go-ahead with 4:40 left. Boisvert Serge, from Nick Doucet and Jesse Colborne, put the Blues up 2-0. The Leafs then pulled their goalie and David Hayes tallied one for the Valley squad with 53 seconds remaining. He was assisted by Anderson and Uhlman. The Leafs couldn't find the equalizer, and with three seconds remaining, Black scored on the Leafs' empty net.
“We should've won the game. We had a lot of chances. Our goalie played great,” said Dill, reflecting on what happened at the Dr. Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre.
The Leafs outshot the Blues by a considerable margin — 53-30. Schmidt was tagged with the loss while Jessie Cox picked up the win.