YARMOUTH, N.S. – Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the MHL playoffs getting underway this week.
If you don’t hear it yet you definitely will if you’re in the Mariners Centre on Thursday night. March 15 is the opening of the Eastlink South Division semifinal best-of-seven series between the Yarmouth Mariners and the Truro Bearcats.
By finishing first in the division during the regular season, the Mariners have home-ice advantage for these playoffs.
“It's going to be an exciting time, not only for us as a team, but for the town of Yarmouth,” says Mariners player Ben Chipman. “Right from training camp we were given all the right tools and all the right pieces from the ownership and the coaching staff. Now it’s our time to put everything together and execute it.
“I think we’ve had a real successful season. It’s been one of our best in franchise history,” he says. “It’s been a long time since Yarmouth has seen a championship and we’re going to do our best to bring one home.”
It has indeed been a successful season for Yarmouth. The Mariners finished atop the Eastlink South Division after the regular season with 71 points, which was also good enough to finish second overall in the league behind the Edmundston Blizzard, who had 76 points. The Mariners – who finished the regular season with 35 wins, 14 losses and one overtime loss – also consistently received recognition in the CJHL Top 20 weekly rankings of junior A teams across the country throughout the season.
Playoff series schedule
All games are at 7 p.m. with exception of Game 5 if needed, that one is at 7:30 p.m.
Game 1: Truro at Yarmouth March 15, 7 pm
Game 2: Yarmouth at Truro March 17, 7 pm
Game 3: Truro at Yarmouth March 19, 7 pm
Game 4: Yarmouth at Truro March 21, 7 pm
Game 5 (if needed): Truro at Yarmouth March 23, 7:30 pm
Game 6 (if needed): Yarmouth at Truro March 25, 7 pm
Game 7 (if needed): Truro at Yarmouth March 27, 7pm
Head coach Laurie Barron feels a real turning point in the season for his team was a 2-1 win the Mariners had over the Edmundston Blizzard in November. The team had already had much success to that point, but it had also hit a rut.
“We had lost four in a row and we were going into Edmundston with a lot of travel and we were tired, we were beat up and we found a way to win up there 2-1 and since then it seemed like it kind of put us over the hole,” says Barron.
The Mariners lost both of their last regular-season games this past weekend by scores of 3-1, first to South Shore and then to Truro. Asked if fans should be worried heading into playoffs, Barron says there is no cause for concern. Without anything to lose (figuratively speaking), he says they had rested up some players for the regular season’s final weekend, including ones still nursing injuries. To their credit, Barron says the South Shore Lumberjacks had a lot riding on their games, as they were looking to finish in second place for home-ice advantage in their series with Amherst and that showed in their play in Yarmouth.
Asked about meeting Truro in the playoffs, Barron says, “Obviously Truro’s teams are always well coached. Shawn Evans does a great job with them. They’ve got solid goaltending and their veteran D-core play really structured . . . I see a lot of those games being 2-1, 3-2 games,” he says. “We’re looking forward to it, we’re excited. We’re not taking anything for granted, but we feel like we’ve got a team that is built to win.”
Asked about the Mariners’ performance this season, Barron says, “We've got a real good group of kids. We had a good returning core and then we added some real key guys. Our goalie Leif Hertz has been good all year. Our defence core has been solid. Our goals against average was real good this year and our scoring is pretty spread out. I think all of those things made for a pretty good year.”
Mariners player Chris Goreham of Shelburne County says the team is looking forward to the playoffs. The team’s play at home has been really good this season, he says, and the backing the Mariners get from their fans will add to the adrenaline in the rink.
“It’s always awesome playing in here during the regular season so the playoffs will just be a boost,” says Goreham. “The arena will be packed. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ben Chipman also says there is a lot to be said about having a solid, loyal fan base for players, both on and off the ice.
He says there is certainly increased pressure that comes with playoffs, but you know when you’re playing at home you’re going to have the backing of your fans. They’ll even have backing in Truro as some fans are being bussed there by the team and others will likely make the drive themselves.
Coming from North Vancouver, B.C., playing hockey on the other side of the country was an adjustment for Chipman when he first joined the team last year.
“But the ownership and coaching staff made me feel comfortable right away. I got into a great billet home, they’ve made me really feel like family. I’ve just been welcomed and treated like family by everyone. Everyone in Yarmouth has made that transition a pretty easy one.”
Chipman is one of the players who has been nursing an injury – for him it's been his shoulder – but he’s ready for the playoffs.
“We’ve prepared ourselves really well all year. For me personally, and my teammates, we’re all prepared for this situation,” he says. “We’ve worked hard throughout the season to improve and to work on certain areas of our game. We’re going to go into the playoffs confident and just with a real good feeling.”
The following are the regular season results of Truro-Yarmouth games.
• Yarmouth 3 – Truro 1, Sept. 15
• Truro 6 – Yarmouth 3, Sept. 29
• Yarmouth 4 – Truro 1, Oct. 7
• Yarmouth 4 – Truro 1, Nov. 29
• Yarmouth 4 – Truro 1, Dec. 1
• Truro 3 – Yarmouth 1, March 10