(WINDSOR, ON) – Now that the dust has settled, the Windsor Clippers are once again the OJBLL’s Far West Division champions; six years running. On top of that, the Clippers have swept all three major offensive categories league-wide.
Last weekend, a 6-5 win against the Wallaceburg Red Devils, an 18-7 thrashing of the Owen Sound North Stars, and a 31-6 demolition of the Guelph Regals sealed up third place in the Western Conference for the Clippers and has set them up for a first-round matchup with the sixth-seeded, and two-time defending national champion, Orangeville Northmen.
Last Thursday, the Clippers and Red Devils brought the house down at Forest Glade Arena, trading blows like a pair of heavyweight boxers, in an uncharacteristically low scoring affair for the two offensive juggernauts. Nathan Salaris opened the game’s scoring 10 minutes in, on a feed from Josh Rosa, ripping a shot past former Clipper, and Wallaceburg’s star goalie, Brayden Bell.
Thirty seconds later, Brayden Mayea continued his season-long offensive reign of terror, making it 2-0, also from Rosa. Just over a minute later, Wallaceburg’s Jordan Goddard cut the lead by half.
In the middle act, the Red Devils drew even on a rip from Kyle Dawson. Midway through the frame, Clippers’ assistant captain Chase Kavanaugh retook the lead, blasting a shot past Bell, on a feed from Noah Bushnell.
In the final stanza, up 3-2, the Clippers fell victim to a surge of Red Devil offence. Cory Burr and Marshall Powless both ripped home shots on Windsor starter Carson Hebner early in the third, giving Wallaceburg their first lead of the game. Not long after, however, Brendan Wallace replied for the Clippers, with a shorthanded and unassisted marker.
Just past the midway point, Wallaceburg’s Sidney Powless buried a power-play effort to once again jump in front. The second half of the third belonged to goalie Carson Hebner and sniper Chase Kavanaugh. Between multiple highlight reel saves by Hebner, on breakaways and cross-crease passes, Kavanaugh and his line-mates chipped away at the Wallaceburg defence.
With five minutes remaining, Kavanaugh, on a setup from Evan Mihalic, tied the game 5-5 and, with 65 seconds remaining, Mayea found Kavanaugh again, who rifled the game-winning goal past Bell from up top.
In the final minute, Hebner and the Clippers defence could not be solved and the home team reigned victorious.
With the win, Windsor dashed any hopes for Wallaceburg’s aspirations of a conference championship. The Clippers needed two wins in their final two games for another division title.
“In these division games, there’s so much emotion, it’s not hard to get up for them,” said Clippers head coach Jerry Kavanaugh. “Before the game, I said that if you can’t get up for this game, you shouldn’t even be playing lacrosse. We knew how big it was, we’ve been real good on the road this year, had some ups and downs here in our own building. Going into the playoffs, we want to make sure this is a real tough place to play in.”
The Red Devils have been making plans for a deep playoff run. Their roster is stacked with prime talent from across southern Ontario.
“They’re loaded, especially on their power play and their offence,” said the coach. “They have weapons all over the place, but I think this is the fastest defence we’ve had since we’ve been here. We did a great job of shutting them down.”
Chase Kavanaugh, who just finished the season winning the Clippers’ fourth OJBLL scoring title in five seasons with 122 points, was instrumental in the win.
“I jumped up on the ledge and almost fell off, but the boys got excited,” said his coach and father, describing when Chase took over the game. “He’s the guy we look to in the offensive end. He’s our leader up there and he put us on his back a little bit tonight.”
The younger Kavanaugh understood the importance of the game.
“We knew we had to come out strong,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t get the best start we wanted, considering the first two games, pretty high scoring games, but this one was the first time they were held below 10 [goals] the whole year, and definitely one of our lowest scoring games of the year.”
Hebner was outstanding in net, stopping 40 of 45 shots for the win.
“He was just fantastic for us all night,” said coach Kavanaugh. “He made a couple big breakaway stops, especially in a game where we’re struggling to get on a roll on offence, to keep it [low scoring]. [It] is just a great accomplishment for him. He’s as good as any goalie in the league, if not the best goalie. He’s right there with them. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do in a series.”
Hebner led the Western Conference with 12 wins this season.
“Well, it definitely didn’t go as I expected,” said Hebner. “Near the end of the game, they knew they had to get me moving … I played a little bit more cautious than I would normally be playing, but it worked out in the end.”
The Clippers’ starting tender is ready for the playoffs.
“I love it,” he said. “[The win] was big for us and I’m hoping we can play this through to the playoffs.”
Two nights later, the Clippers crushed Owen Sound 18-7 in the Scenic City. Hebner picked up the win, while Kavanaugh led with four goals. Rosa, Salaris, Mayea, Mihalic, and Blain Wallace followed up with two apiece and captain James Morgan, Brendan Wallace, Jonathon Jenkins, and Bushnell picked up singles.
Windsor finished off the regular season and capped off the division title run with a 31-6 thrashing of the Regals in Guelph.
Bushnell scored six goals for 16 points, Mayea cashed in seven for 12, and Kavanaugh tallied three for 11. As well, Blain Wallace nailed five, Salaris earned a hat-trick, Brendan Wallace and Rosa each scored two, while Kolton Couvillon, Jackman Schooley, and Aaron Dugan netted one each.
Hebner and Chase Cosgrove split the win, facing 40 shots.
In no small feat, rookie Brayden Mayea and veteran Noah Bushnell both managed to finish the season in the 100-point club. Mayea led the OJBLL in goal scoring with 60 while Bushnell was tops in the league with 82 assists in his final season of eligibility.
Next on the docket for the Clippers is a best-of-five rendezvous with the two-time defending Founders Cup champions from Orangeville. In their only meeting this year at mid-season, the Northmen caught the Clippers off guard with a 10-7 win.
The series is a must-win for the Clippers, not just for the usual reasons, but for pride. The Northmen and Clippers have both been powerhouses in the league for a while now and have met in the playoffs four of the past five seasons. The Northmen have eliminated the Clippers each time.
Most notably was in 2016 during a series which went down to the wire and where the Clippers seemed primed for a trip to the Founders Cup.
The Clippers have all the tools to go deep into the playoffs this year and the Northmen will be the ultimate test to determine if their dream can become reality.
Western Conference Semi-final Schedule
- Game 1 – Sunday, June 24 – Orangeville @ Windsor – 7pm
- Game 2 – Tuesday, June 26 – Windsor @ Orangeville – 8pm
- Game 3 – Thursday, June 28 – Orangeville @ Windsor – 8pm
- Game 4 – Monday, July 2 – Windsor @ Orangeville – 3pm*
- Game 5 – Tuesday, July 3 – Orangeville @ Windsor – 8pm*