ARNPRIOR – The West Carleton Rivermen had to overcome two two-goal deficits to do it, but they have extended their playoff run by at least one more game, and it’s at home this Saturday (March 26).
Nearly 200 paid fans (and a boatload of kids) were treated to one of the wildest Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League (EOSHL) playoff games this season, the Rivermen defeated the Gananoque Islanders 8-7 to extend the best-of-three-game series to one final game for the right to represent the EOSHL West Division inf the 2022 championship series.
The 2021-2022 edition of the Rivermen will be known as the cardiac kids this playoff season. In the first round, the Rivermen knocked off the Tweed Oil Kings in overtime of game three.
In round two, the Rivermen dropped the first game of the series in Gananoque 7-3 Friday, March 18. In a three-game series, you don’t have room for too many mistakes. The Rivermen had their backs against the wall at the Nick Smith Centre Saturday (March 19) night in front of, for the third game in a row, the largest crowd of the season.
The first period ended with the Rivermen down 2-0 on goals by playoff goal-scoring leader Islanders’ Ben Blasko and Ryan Verbeek.
The Rivermen stormed out of the locker room in the second period scoring the next three goals. Galetta’s Adrian Moyes started it off, followed by two goals from Stittsville’s Alex Hulford. Hulford, 27, was named the first star scoring a hat trick and adding an assist for four points.
The two teams traded goals for a while and halfway through the third it looked pretty grim for the Rivermen who once again found themselves down by two goals.
“Being down two goals with less than 12 minutes to play is certainly less than ideal, but isn’t unmanageable,” Rivermen coach Mike Byrne told West Carleton Online today (March 21). “At that point, I’m telling the players to put everything to the net, and to hope for a bounce, which they did. I told the boys to play their game.”
Hulford, who kicked off the comeback with 12 minutes left in the third explained what he was thinking as time ticked down.
“Just put everything on net and empty the tank,” Hulford said.
Kanata’s Riley Hennigar and Gloucester’s Stephen Blunden would complete the comeback with the winning goal scored with 1:10 left in the game. Blunden would be named second star with two goals and four assists in the game.
It was a win against the hottest team in the entire EOSHL. Before Saturday’s game, the Islanders had lost only one of their last 10 games and were undefeated in the playoffs after sweeping the EOSHL regular season champion Smith Falls Rideaus.
Gloucester Centre’s Zack Rheaume, 2019-2020 EOSHL Defenceman of the Year, says the team is getting used to these do-or-die battles.
“We weren’t worried, we’ve overcome adversity many times before,” he told West Carleton Online.
Byrne says the Rivermen played better than the score indicated Friday night despite losing.
“We had a terrible 11-minute stretch on Friday, but the rest of our game wasn’t bad,” Byrne, who was the 2019-2020 EOSHL Coach of the Year, said. “I thought we played well in the second and third, and asked the boys continue that momentum into Saturday. Once again, our first period wasn’t amazing, but the boys came to play in the second and third. This team has had some pretty dramatic finishes in its two-year existence, but I am not certain any of them beat Saturday.”
Stittsville’s Ryan Duhaime has played defence for both the Rivermen’s two seasons in the EOSHL. He says these are the types of games that bring out fans to senior A hockey.
“So many highs and lows in the game with the back-and-forth scoring,” Duhaime told West Carleton Online. “Hopefully we can continue to get more people out to the games because that was a good showcase of the hockey that goes on.”
Game three, the final of the series, will be played in Arnprior next Saturday (March 26) at the Nick Smith Centre with puck drop at 7:45 p.m. The winner of the game will be crowned EOSHL West Division Champion and earn the right to play for the EOSHL championship.
Hulford says the gameplan will be pretty simple.
“Score eight more goals and I think we have a pretty good chance,” he said.
Tickets, available at the gate, are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for youth 13 to 17. Kids under 18 and accompanied by a paying adult get in free.
In the EOSHL East Division, the North Dundas Rockets will battle the South Gloucester Rangers for the division championship. The first game in that series is March 26. For more info on the Rivermen, visit their Facebook page here.