Essex Wins Game Seven Battle to Claim Seventh Schmalz Cup
By: Kevin E. Neels
The Essex 73's had four chances to capture their seventh Schmalz Cup heading into game four with a 3-0 series lead over a tough Port Hope Panthers hockey club. The Panthers proved how tough they were as they went on to defeat the 73's in the next three games to even the series at 3-3 and force a seventh and deciding game in the friendly rink they call home.
If the 73's were to claim the championship they would need to adjust their game and get back to solid defense, something that lacked in the three Panthers victories. Either way, this was predicted to be a great game from two teams that have been very evenly matched.
At the end of the night, it was indeed defense that turned the trick for the 73's, as Noah Hedrick shutout Port Hope for the second time in the series, this time by a slim 1-0 score.
Period one was scoreless as Hedrick, and his counterpart Devan Tremblay were unbeatable with the home team having an 11-8 shot advantage.
Essex held a slim 6-5 shot advantage in the middle frame but managed to score the game's only goal as Jordan Ryan beat Tremblay late in the period on a feed from Tyler Scott.
The Panthers held a 9-7 advantage in shots in period three but could not get the equalizer.
This was a classic game for a game seven. Shots were very close with both teams getting their chances, and the key, only one power play in the entire sixty minutes, a rarity at this level of hockey, but a rarity that we wish would could see more often.
Congratulations to the Port Hope Panthers on a great season, and a great series, and congratulations to the Essex 73's on capturing Schmalz Cup number seven
Port Hope Edged 1-0 In Game 7 Of Schmalz Cup Final
Courtesy of North Cumberland Today
PORT HOPE - In the end, the Port Hope Panthers didn't have one more rally left in them.
They couldn't have come much closer to winning the Ontario Hockey Association junior C championship series, though, but it was just out of their grasp.
The Panthers had rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to force Game 7 on Friday night, but the visiting Essex 73's earned a 1-0 victory to capture the Schmalz Cup in front of 1,200 spectators at the Jack Burger Sports Complex in Port Hope.
Jordan Ryan scored the lone goal for Essex with 3:09 left in the second period. That put the Panthers in the position of trying to battle back the rest of the way.
“It's always tough to lose and it's tough to lose at this stage (of the season), but I'm proud of them,” Panthers head coach Mat Goody said of his players. “I'm proud of the way they fought back and they should be proud of themselves. It was a hard fought battle. Credit to (Essex), they played a tight game. It was a good hockey game and the community should be proud of these guys too for the way they conducted themselves all season.”
It was May of last year that the Panthers began this run to the Schmalz Cup final. That was when rookie camp was held with the return of Goody as head coach and the goal of reaching the OHA championship junior C championship .
It was perhaps a lofty goal considering the Panthers had been eliminated in the first round of the Empire Junior C Hockey League playoffs the previous season, but the club was setting its goals high.
They finished the 2014-2015 Empire regular campaign with a first-place record of 31-8-1, which was 18 points ahead of the second-place Napanee Raiders.
In the Empire playoffs, the Panthers defeated the defending champion Picton Pirates in five games and then swept Napanee in four games in the league final.
In the OHA Schmalz Cup playoffs, the Panthers knocked off the Clarington Eagles in six games in the quarterfinals and swept the Alliston Hornets four straight in the semifinals.
Trailing 3-0 in the championship series against Essex, the Panthers could have swept.
Goody believes the way his club rebounded made it a better experience, despite the Game 7 defeat.
“I think it would have hurt more going out four straight,” he remarked. “Now we know what those guys felt like for the last two years. They've battled through adversity themselves – they've got guys there that have been through (losing) twice. Congratulations to them and it's exciting how far we came in a year as a year. It's important that we take the good from this and move forward.”
Essex was playing in their third straight Schmalz Cup final after losing to Picton in 2013 and the Lakefield Chiefs in 2014.
Scott Bromley, the 73s captain, played on both those teams and noted it was the fourth straight year for his club in the Schmalz Cup playoffs that he's been a part of.
While Bromley said it was “amazing” to finally be victorious, he acknowledged it wasn't easy.
“Port Hope was a heck of a team, making that three-game comeback, so we had to really rally back together,” Bromley said. “They gave us our best run yet and that was a fun series to play in. Kudos to them, they did an awesome job.”
Bromley said the73s were able to overcome the Port Hope rally in the series because of the camaraderie amongst the players.
“A lot of us are best friends and hang out outside the arena so it was pretty easy for our leaders to rally the guys because say one thing and all these guys jump on board because we're such good friends,” he remarked. “I'm super happy for all the guys on our team. I'm super proud of all the young guys who came in and bought into the systems and everything.”
This was expected to be a rebuilding season for the 73s.
“We lost our two main goal scorers and a couple really key defencemen, so it was supposed to be a rebuilding year,” Bromley said. “We got a lot of good guys who came out to our camp. We're not the most skilled team ever, but we have a whole group of 20 guys who buy into the systems. All the guys here did an amazing year.”
Friday's Game 7 was the final junior contest for Bromley, Ryan – who scored the decisive goal in his swan song – Daniel McIntyre and Daniel Slipchuk.
“I'm just so proud of our boys,” said Essex head coach Gil Langlois. “You look at the two teams and they probably had more skill than we did, but we just found a way to get it done here today. A 1-0 victory is so sweet, especially for the four overagers. A couple of them have been with me for the four years.
“We exceeded our expectations coming into the season because we had so many new guys and two rookie goalies.”
Like Bromley, Langlois gave kudos to the Panthers.
“You have to tip your hat to Port Hope 100%,” he said. “They work so hard and it's been said before, the first three games a bounce here or a bounce there it would have been a totally different outcome (in those games) probably. They're well-coached and they played hard. What I enjoyed about today's game, there was no goofiness, the kids stuck to hockey and really had a commitment to playing the game and winning.
“I applaud Port Hope's tenacity,” Langlois added. “They're a very good team.”
The 73s made the long trek home to Essex, near Windsor, after the game Friday.
“It's going to be a nice ride home,” Langlois said. “A long one, but a nice one.”
Panthers coach Goody, meanwhile, gave praise to his overagers who played their final junior game. They were captain Jacob Spicer, Tyler Davey, Connor Turland, Dylan Baxter and goaltender Devan Tremblay.
“Those guys have a special place in my heart and they're good people and they have bright future ahead of them,” he said.
Spicer remained positive even when the Panthers fell behind 3-0 in the series. He said in an interview with Northumberland Today at the time that his club had an opportunity facing elimination. He wasn't pleased for the Panthers to be down three games to none, but he suggested how it great of a win it would be to rally and win in such dramatic fashion.
After that, the Panthers won three straight and were just short of the championship victory.
“Anytime you're down 3-0, especially in the final, and you have enough character in the room to even come back and force it to Game 7, it's a privilege,” Spicer said. It sucks to fall short, but at the same time I'm proud to fall short with that team. I wouldn't want to go through it with any other guys. That was my best year of hockey.”
Spicer played five seasons for the Panthers and it was his first time in front of a sell-out crowd at the Jack Burger Sports Complex.
“It's great, win or lose, to know we have that much support,” Spicer said. “I've never in my life played in front of an electric crowd like that. To end my career like that, even though we lost, it's nice to know I and the team had all that support.”