ARNPRIOR – The Arnprior Rivermen overcame three deficits Saturday (Feb. 18), beating the Deseronto Bulldogs in overtime and winning the first round of the Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League (EOSHL) playoffs in one game flat.
The game was a perfect performance for home team fans – one that had many of the 185 announced attendance standing on their feet by the final whistle.
The Rivermen overcame two one-goal deficits and a two-goal deficit halfway through the third period to win 5-4 in overtime. It was a scrappy affair, with the Rivermen’s Sutton Allard, a 22-year-old Petawawa native who played for the U20 France team in 2019-2020 dropping the gloves with the Bulldogs’ Brett Maracle who has two 100-plus penalty minute seasons in his EBJCHL hockey career.
The Rivermen received only two fighting majors during the regular season. And both of those were in the same game.
A second-period scrum ended with Deseronto’s Garry Smith receiving a double-minor for the rarely called grabbing hair, face mask, helmet, penalty.
But the hockey on the ice was exciting and fast-paced as well.
Jonny Hill opened the scoring for Deseronto seven minutes after opening puck drop. Arnprior’s Jesse Dick tied the game up shortly after that. Dick, 21, is well known in the Ottawa Valley having played for the Ottawa Valley Titans, Pembroke Lumber Kings, the Arnprior Packers and eight games in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s in the 2018-2019 season.
The Bulldogs would get their second lead of the game on the power play 11 minutes in to the second period on a goal by Greg Arnburg. Three minutes later Wakefield, QC’s, Carter Peck, 21, tied it up again.
About eight minutes in to the third, the Bulldogs would get their first of two goals in less than two minutes. Joey Mayer scored, and Hill would get his second of the night on the power play.
But the Rivermen would do what they did all night, and come back right away.
Allard got his first goal of the EOSHL playoffs and Ottawa’s Cole Peck, 26, would get the tying goal with six minutes still left in the game.
A very fast-paced, high-energy overtime period ended eight minutes in when fan favourite Kingston’s Eric Lanciault, 33, ended the game and the Bulldog’s 2022-2023 EOSHL season.
“Winning on home ice was huge,” Rivermen coach Mike Byrne told West Carleton Online yesterday (Feb. 21). “If we had to go back to Deseronto Sunday, they would have had all the momentum. Especially considering the game would have been less than 24 hours later and we would have been commuting the day of.”
The reason EOSHL regular season action was so important is because of the first round of the EOSHL playoffs. The top two teams in both the six-team east and west divisions received a bye out of the first round. The next two seeds, where the Rivermen fit in, only had to win one game in the first round, and the bottom two teams, where Deseronto finished up, had to win two games to advance.
The rest of the EOSHL playoffs are best-of-five series.
While the Rivermen will have more rope in the EOSHL West Division Championship, Byrne hopes the team doesn’t make it quite as exciting as it did in the first round.
“If I didn’t know any better, I could swear this team prefers playing from behind,” Byrne said. “It seems whenever we go down, players take it to the next level. It’s a great thing to be able to do, but we’ll have to play with leads as well if we want to be successful.”
The Rivermen will now play the EOSHL East Division number one seed, the Gananoque Islanders who finished the regular season 13-6-1 and led the division in goals scored (136) and the EOSHL in penalty minutes with 591.
“I think the biggest key is going to be our play in the defensive zone,” Byrne said. “Gananoque has arguably the best offence in the league and if we make mistakes, they’ll make us pay. That, and staying disciplined. We ran into penalty trouble on Saturday and that’s partially what attributed to the deficits we faced.”
The Islanders are led offensively from the back end and defenceman Ryan Pawlikowski who scored 15 goals and 18 assists as a defenceman in the regular season. The 23-year-old Stittsville native played several years with the Kemptville 73’s in the CCHL.
Islanders forwards Ryan Verbeek (14 G, 27 A, 52 points) and Brock Higgs (9 G, 18 A, 40 points) are also threats. Verbeek played four seasons in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires and the Kingston Frontenacs and one season in the QMJHL.
Higgs, 30, played some East Coast Hockey League hockey in his career and a handful of games in the American Hockey League. Head-to-head, Gananoque went 3-1 against the Rivermen during the EOSHL regular season.
The Rivermen will open the series in Gananoque Friday, Feb. 24 in the first game of the second round of the EOSHL playoffs at the Lou Jeffries, Gananoque and TLTI Recreation Centre. Game two is in Arnprior at the Nick Smith Centre starting at 4:30 p.m.
Byrne hopes the Rivermen fans bring the energy like they did Saturday.
“The support was amazing,” he said. “The louder the crowd gets, the better we seem to play. Very thankful for the support and hopeful it continues.”
Tickets are available at the gate or you can buy them in advance here.