The Valley Maple Leafs got their 2012-2013 post-season off to a positive start with a 4-2 win over the Sackville Blazers in the first game of their best-of-seven NSJBL division semifinal Monday evening, Feb. 18 in Lower Sackville.
While the result qualifies as somewhat of an upset, in reality, the regular season standings in the Fred Fox Division were so close that only three points separated the first-place Blazers from the fourth-place Leafs.
Sackville claimed top spot with 42 points, Brookfield was second with 41, the Bay Ducks third with 40 and Valley, which clinched a playoff berth in their final game, fourth with 39. Fifth-place Eastern Shore was only a point behind them with 38.
On Monday, Valley opened the scoring midway through the first period when Luke Short stole the puck in the Blazers’ zone and slipped it past Brennan Laite.
The 1-0 lead held up for only four minutes, until Sackville’s Matt Arthur scored on the power play on assists from Adam Brown and Andrew Taylor.
With three minutes left in the period and Valley now on the power play, Nathan Little’s shot from the point was deflected past Laite by Jake Galbraith for a 2-1 Valley lead after one period. Brandon Parker also drew an assist on the goal.
The Maple Leafs, who outshot Sackville 15-10 in the first period, upped their lead to 3-1 when David Hayes and Jory Uhlman set up Colin Gillis with 1:22 left in the second period.
Valley had a 9-7 edge in shots in the middle frame for a 22-19 advantage after 40 minutes.
In the third period, Andrew Squires scored the prettiest goal of the night, an accurate shot from the left side that went in over Laite’s shoulder for a 4-1 Valley lead. Brady Fisher drew the only assist on the goal, which was scored at 2:20.
The game’s final goal, at 9:06 of the third, came off the stick of Sackville’s Shane Boudreau to reduce the lead to 4-2. Trailing by two, the Blazers pulled their goalie in the final minute but were unable to close the gap any further.
Alex Mader stopped 33 of the 35 shots aimed his way, including 15 of 16 in the third period, to earn his first playoff win at the Junior B level. The Maple Leafs ended up with 29 shots on Laite.
“One of our goals this year was just to make playoffs,” said assistant coach Rob Lindsay following the win. “We're happy as coaching staff. The boys played hard, they showed a lot of character.”
Standout players in the Monday night game included Squires, Gillis, Uhlman and David Hayes.
“Squires seems to be firing on all cylinders... It's a good time for him to peak. We've got Gilly, who's playing unbelievable. Jory is a solid guy,” said Lindsay, noting that “Hayes dug really deep” and assisted the defence even though he's generally a forward.
With the win, home ice advantage in the series shifted in favour of the Leafs, with three of the next five games in the best-of-seven series scheduled for their home ice, starting with game two, an 8:20 p.m. start Thursday, Feb. 21 in Berwick.
Game three is set for Monday, Feb. 25 in Sackville, with game four back in Berwick Thursday, Feb. 28.
~ With files from Carole Morris-Underhill