(Editor’s note: Imagery of blood below)
ARNPRIOR – It’s Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League (EOSHL) playoff time, and both the West Carleton Rivermen and Tweed Oil Kings understood the assignment Saturday (March 5) night in Arnprior playing a highly entertaining, highly competitive and fiercely fought Game One of the EOSHL West Division semi-final playoffs.
The game was a showcase for the fledgling senior A hockey league playing it’s second season after 2020-2021 was wiped out by COVID-19.
The first season was played in 2019-2020 with the Rivermen playing out of Kinburn’s Cavanagh SensPlex. The inaugural season was a four-team league. The Rivermen, owned by Galetta’s Adrian Moyes, had the best record in the regular season and lost in the fifth game of the five-game championship series to the Cornwall Prowlers.
Between then and now, the league tripled in size and this season had 12 teams playing in communities in western Quebec and eastern Ontario. The Rivermen moved to Arnprior for this season and the foreseeable future, so the Rivermen are hoping for a long playoff fun and for fans to start to coming out to games to cheer on the team.
An announced attendance of 103 came out for the first game of the playoffs, and that is the largest crowd of the season. It pales in comparison to the Oil Kings who have been drawing 500 to 600 fans for regular season games in the team’s first season.
Those who came out to Saturday’s game were treated to a fierce battle with the EOSHL West Division third place Rivermen defeating the second place Oil Kings 5-4 in an upset that was tightly played all game long and ended with heated emotion as tempers got the best of several players and some coaching staff after the final buzzer.
The first round of the EOSHL playoffs is a three-game series. Saturday’s game is the only one in the first round the Rivermen host, before heading to Tweed this weekend (March 12 and March 13) for at least one game in a barn full of loud, motivated fans. Enough said, the first game was very important for the Rivermen to win, with still a tough road ahead.
“Winning the first game is huge, but we still have our work cut out for us,” Rivermen coach Mike Byrne told West Carleton Online yesterday (March 8). “The old saying goes ‘you aren’t in trouble until you lose on home ice’ so we are now tasked with taking a game from Tweed in their rink. The series lead is nice, but it is far from over.”
The Rivermen opened the scoring early a minute-and-a-half in with Petawawa’s Riley Poirier scoring with assists from 2019-2020 EOSHL Defenceman of the Year Zack Rheaume and Alex Hulford. Arnprior hockey fans may remember Poirier from his year on the Packers in 2015-2016. He also played for the Renfrew Timberwolves and the Shawville Pontiacs.
Former uSports and NCAA player Blake Forslund would give the Rivermen a two-goal lead a little more than a minute later scoring unassisted and shorthanded.
Former OHL’er Corbin Crawford would get the Oil Kings first goal of the game. Carp’s Ryley Egan would get the Rivermen’s second shorthanded goal of the period. It would be the last two-goal lead of the game. Egan, before joining the Rivermen, played for Bjorninn in the Iceland League in 2015-2016.
Tweed’s Darren Foherty would score on the powerplay to end the first period 3-2 for the home team.
The Rivermen would start the second period with four straight powerplays and five in the period (and only give up one powerplay) but was unable to find the back of the net despite sustained pressure and several great chances. They would end up firing 25 shots on Tweed goalie Matt Lovey.
Tweed’s Murray Free, one of Tweed’s best players who averaged 1.9 points per game in the regular season, scored a heartbreaker to end the second period and send the teams to the third tied at three. Giving up a goal after not scoring on five powerplay chances could break a team’s spirit.
“The thinking going in to the third was that we would have to find a way to score,” Byrne said. “Like you said, we outshot them 25-7 and were not rewarded for it. Luckily, in the third, we got some traffic to the net and were rewarded for it.”
Poirier would get his second goal of the game on an assist from Stephen Blunden early in the third. Tweed’s Jesse Douglas would tie the game again with just under nine minutes to go. But 30 seconds later, Blunden would be the finisher on a pass from Rheaume. Gloucester’s Blunden played four seasons with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL and split one of those seasons with the Ottawa 67’s in 2008-2009.
The Rivermen would hold on to the lead for the win. Immediately after the buzzer, Lovey, who stopped 43 of 48 shots skated over to the group of Rivermen players celebrating the win near the blue line and eventually started throwing blocker punches at the players. While West Carleton Online did not see what ignited the event it is rumoured the goalie felt there was a shot after the buzzer.
A large scrum developed with a few punches thrown and the Rivermen’s Ryan Duhaime and the Oil King’s Pat Millington eventually squaring off, with the end result leaving Millington fairly bloodied.
Water bottles were also thrown between benches, the first coming from Tweed’s bench, and words exchanged between the coaches – Byrne and Tweed’s John Desjardins.
Byrne said the tight-checking third showed him the team could rebound from a tough goal and play the type of hockey needed to win in the EOSHL playoffs.
“In the third, the team showed me it can play defensive hockey,” Byrne said. “We also showed resilience, scoring 30 seconds after Tweed had tied it. I would have liked to have seen that level of intensity all game long.”
Byrne did not want to have the actions after the final whistle overshadow the action between the buzzers.
“I’d prefer not to shine a light on what happened at the end of the game,” he said. “The actions of the Tweed goalie and water bottles being thrown are not representative of the skill this league has to offer. I have a ton of respect for John Desjardins and what he has done with that Tweed team, and that has not changed whatsoever.”
While the Rivermen are focusing on next week’s road game, Byrne hopes the team and the fans will build on Saturday’s momentum.
“The crowd was huge,” Byrne said of the largest crowd of the season. “We definitely used it to our advantage. Here is hoping we can move on to round two, and continue to draw more interest.”
The Rivermen’s Blunden was named first star and Poirier was named second. The Oil King’s Darren Doherty was named third star.
The Rivermen win wasn’t the only upset of the opening round of the EOSHL West Division playoffs. The EOSHL regular season champions with a 15-3-0 record were soundly thumped 7-0 by the red-hot Gananoque Islanders Saturday night at the Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre in front of 502 fans. The Islanders went 6-1 down the regular season stretch to grab the last west division playoff spot.
The EOSHL East Division playoffs are expected to start this weekend featuring the South Grenville Rangers versus the Glengarry Pipers and the Cornwall Prowlers versus the North Dundas Rockets.
For information on how to follow this weekend’s Rivermen playoff games, visit their Facebook page here.