(WINDSOR, ON) – Anyone who thought the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League’s Far West Division was going to be another cakewalk this year for the Windsor Clippers just doesn’t know what they are talking about.
The London Blue Devils are the same old Blue Devils we remember from last year, and are already eliminated from playoff contention with six games remaining. But, the Wallaceburg Red Devils and Point Edward Pacers pose legitimate threats.
The Clippers recently eked out a last-minute win against Wallaceburg and tied them on the road earlier in the campaign. The Pacers, on the other hand, have actually left more than just a scratch.
Going into Thursday’s home matchup against Point Edward, Windsor had a multi-season, 14-game winning streak against their divisional rivals, dating back to 2012. They met on the road only a week before, with the Clippers topping the Pacers 16-13, despite badly outshooting them.
Point Edward has a great equalizer. As the Clippers are finding out, old friends can make the worst enemies.
Goalie Brayden Bell came to Windsor last season in a one-season conditional trade and helped the Clippers to the fifth and deciding game of the OJBLL Western Conference final. This year, he is helping the Pacers, who have suffered from undisciplined and inconsistent play in recent years, become contenders for a playoff spot.
At present, Windsor and Wallaceburg sit tied for the Far West Division lead, although the Clippers have a game in hand, while the 6-6-0 Pacers tentatively sit in sixth place in the conference standings.
In their first meeting, it took 71 shots for Windsor to nail the Pacers, but on Thursday, Point Edward utilized a man-on-man defence instead of playing the zone, holding the Clippers to 56 shots, many from the outside.
In Windsor, Point Edward started rolling early, with goals from Kevin Durco, Korey Conroy, Logan Scott, and Jack Dunn. The Pacers took a 4-2 lead into the first intermission. Both Windsor’s goals came from Noah Bushnell.
The Clippers showed some life in the second, led by a pair from Brendan Wallace. Windsor was able to briefly take the lead and enter the third tied at 7. Also scoring for the home team was Craig Marentette, Andrew Garant, and David Beckmann, while Blain Adams, Cody Burr, and Jacob Caughlin replied for Point Edward.
Seconds into play, after Wallace scored his second of the game, Point Edward’s Bert Thorpe jumped Wallace and a fight ensued.
Both players were ejected.
Things went south in the third as the Pacers found their stride and Windsor could not respond in kind. Conroy added two more to get the hat-trick, while his teammates, Burr and Caughlin, each added one more.
Bushnell provided his third and Windsor’s only marker of the final period.
Bell was solid in net for the Pacers, turning aside 47 of 55 shots for the win. Jacob Corra stopped 29 for the home side.
“I hate blaming anything, but [our] goaltending struggled,” said Clippers head coach Jerry Kavanaugh. “[Corra] really struggled that game on the outside shots and [Bell] played really well at the other end for them.”
Two nights later, the Clippers hosted the Niagara Thunderhawks, leading to a stressful 16-13 win. The Thunderhawks would not go away, bringing the game back to within one for the second half of the final period.
The two teams were tied 4-4 after the first. Wallace lit the lamp on the first play of the game and answered by Niagara’s Wyn Blueye just two minutes later.
The opponents traded goals with James Morgan, Garant, and Bushnell scoring for Windsor, and Devin Napolean, Matt Mines, and Chris Weier for the Thunderhawks.
The Clippers came out determined in the second, outpacing Niagara 8-5 in the period. Chase Kavanaugh led the way with a natural hat-trick, followed by a pair from Dylan Riley, and singles by Bushnell, Jake Rosa, and Luke Cappetto.
Niagara answered back with two goals each from Hunter Lemieux and Saul Vanderzalm and a single one from Bryce Mayea.
Midway through the game, frustrations boiled over, causing some knuckle chucking.
Jackman Schooley, Bushnell, and Marentette were tossed for Windsor, while Niagara’s Weier, Derek Merza, and Mike Weier got the gate for Niagara. Oddly, Bushnell never dropped his gloves, nor did he throw a punch, but was still ejected from the game.
To start the final act, Lemieux opened the scoring, completing his hat-trick for the Thunderhawks. Then Riley and Wallace stretched Windsor’s lead out to four in the blink of an eye.
However, Niagara did respond.
A pair of equally quick goals by Brandon Sveda and Jordy Brennan and a mid-period blast by Evan Printup pulled the road team within a goal with just 10 minutes to go in regulation. The Clippers were not done, though.
Kavanaugh ripped the mesh with his fourth, then Morgan hammered home what would be the final nail in the coffin. But this game was far from done.
On the next play, Morgan was assessed a double-minor for checking from behind in an attempt to get back on a Niagara breakaway. It was do-or-die time for Windsor and they responded well to the adversity.
A series of brilliant saves by rookie goalie Joel Evans and the stubborn ball-carrying of captain Garant and his penalty-kill cohort left the Thunderhawks wondering what could have been.
“It was a good gut-check win,” said coach Kavanaugh after the game. “[Niagara’s] always well-coached and coach [Randy] Chrysler, down there, does a great job all the time.”
Chase Kavanaugh had a 10 point night, adding six assists to his four-goal tally.
“They’re a real good team,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve beat them in the regular season … at least since I’ve been around. Being an offensive guy, guys are looking at you to put up goals. I don’t know if I did anything differently. I think a lot of guys stepped up and I had a good night too.”
Evans gave his team the opportunity to win, turning aside 30 of 43.
“Sometimes it’s not the amount of saves you make, it’s when you make them,” said the Clippers’ coach. “It’s those big ones when you’ve got to stop a run, or they’ve got a couple and you’ve got to make the next stop. These things you learn by being thrown into the fire.”
Evans has played three of the last four games and has performed quite well considering it’s his first year in Junior B.
Keelan Buis and Brandon Rickard split the loss for Niagara, facing 56 shots.
The Clippers are next in action on Friday night when they travel to the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena for a game against the Six Nations Rebels. Their next home game will be Saturday night, as they play host to the Guelph Regals at 7:00pm at Forest Glade Arena.