(DORCHESTER, ON) – The Essex 73s and Ayr Centennials will meet, once again, in the OHA Schmalz Cup semi-finals. Not set in stone until late Friday night, the match-up was dependent on the Alliston Hornets finishing off the Kincardine Bulldogs in Game 5 of their quarter-final series.
The 73s stamped their ticket on Wednesday night by polishing off a sweep of the Southern Ontario League’s Dorchester Dolphins with a 4-1 victory.
In the four years the SOJHL has been playing at the Junior C level, after ascending from Junior ‘D’, Essex has met their champion in the quarter-finals every year and has only lost 3 out of 19 games in that span. This is the second time in three years the 73s have met the Dolphins, the last time, in 2014, the series went the distance and Essex ended up losing the Schmalz Cup final to the Central League’s Lakefield Chiefs.
Trevor Wheaton returned to the pipes for the 73s, as did the Dolphins’ Matt Waller. The two tenders held the game scoreless through the opening stanza, with the shots 13-11 in Essex’s favour.
Nine minutes into the middle frame, Dorchester’s Lucas Wilson broke Wheaton and Eric Badour’s shutout streak at just over 160 minutes, starting late in Game 1. The 2nd period was a chippy affair, with a steady stream of players from both teams going to the sin bin.
Essex’s special teams tied the game, then gave them the lead late in the period. Captain Matthew Hebert scored shorthanded with just under 6 minutes to go in the period, then William Stadder fired home a goal on the power play, less than a minute and a half later.
In the shots column, the 73s dominated the Dolphins 24-7.
During the final act, the parade to the penalty box continued for both teams. Early on, Essex’s Eric Shaw put home an unassisted power play goal to extend the lead for his club. Late in the game, Dorchester’s Alex Weaver was assessed a spearing double minor. Only seconds after the power play ended, Max Viselli put the final nail in the coffin for the Dolphins, scoring an unassisted marker to make the game 4-1.
Both goaltenders had outstanding nights, as Wheaten made 29 of 30 stops for the victory, while Waller recovered from Sunday night’s 10-0 shellacking with 47 saves to cap off his season.
Next up are the Ayr Centennials of Midwestern Junior C League.
The Centennials should be familiar to the Essex faithful, as they have been to the Memorial Arena twice already since the dissolution of Junior D in 2012.
In 2013, as SOJHL champions, Ayr was swept by the 73s in the Schmalz Cup quarter-final. That summer, a portion of the 18-team Southern League separated and merged with parts of the 12-team Niagara District League to form the Midwestern League.
The Centennials have been a major player in the MHL since its founding, losing in the final to Paris in 2014 and winning the crown the next year against Norwich. Ayr won the MHL title this year by defeating the New Hamburg Firebirds in 5 games, after making quick work of the Burford Bulldogs and Wellesley Applejacks.
In the Schmalz Cup quarters, the Centennials ended the Niagara League champion Grimsby Peach Kings 4-games-to-1.
Game 1 of the Schmalz Cup semi-finals will be in Essex on Tuesday at 7:00pm. The series will then alternate to Ayr for the second game on Thursday.