top of page
  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

73’s go the distance, but fall as Lakeshore earns fifth consecutive title 

by Garrett Fodor

Going into last week, there was going to be a winner and a loser declared, as the Essex 73’s and Lakeshore Canadiens looked to win the Stobbs Division championship, with the winner able to advance to face the Thamesford Trojans and contend for the Western Conference Championship.

The series was deadlocked at two games each before the teams returned to Lakeshore last Tuesday night for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series. 

  With the tension in the arena, the emotion swung like a pendulum as each team progressed the puck from one end to the other, as Essex tested Boe Piroski and Lakeshore tested Wyatt Sloetjes. Both goalies held strong and remained unbeaten through the first 20-minutes.

  Continuing the trend through five games, the 73’s eventually opened the scoring, with Luke Sherk beating Piroski just two-minutes into the second period. It was a short answer for Lakeshore, bringing their home crowd to life just two-minutes later, with their Captain, Marco Sladjoe, beating Sloetjes. Closing out the period, Lakeshore got its first lead of the game with Kyle Walker beating Sloetjes on the powerplay. The Canadiens held their 2-1 lead going into the intermission.

In the third period, Nate Dowling responded for the 73’s, scoring his ninth of the post-season, tying the game at two. From there, the Canadiens began to capitalize on the 73’s turnovers and miscues, like a game of cat and mouse. Midway through the third period, Zach Vaillancourt beat Sloetjes to make it a 3-2 game. Bryce Scarlett added an empty netter with the powerplay, to make it a 4-2 final, giving Lakeshore a 3-2 series lead. 

  The series shifted to Essex Friday night for a do-or-die Game 6. Their season could either end on home ice Friday night or they could push the series to a winner-take-all all Game 7. Following his actions at the end of Game 5, the 73’s were without Kale Couvillon, who picked up a two-game suspension. Once again it was Piroski and Sloetjes standing tall and protecting their respective cages. In the final minutes of the first period, it was Karson Beuglet who flipped a shot by Piroski with a man-advantage for the game’s first goal. 

From there, the capacity crowd at the Essex Centre Sports Complex was treated to a goalie duel, both flashing their leather and coming up strong for their teams. Beuglet’s goal stood as the eventual game-winner, despite Lakeshore pulling their goalie. Shots in the game were 33-22 for the home side 73’s.

  Sunday, the series started on a different note. For the first time in the series, it was Canadians taking control of the script early and opening the scoring. Just over midway through the period, Landon Prince beat Sloetjes to make it 1-0. His goal stood until the second period when Cael McCabe tied it up for the 73’s. Through 40-minutes, the teams would remain tied at one, as Essex held a 21-13 edge in the shot column. 

With just over eight-minutes remaining in regulation, there was a stunned crowd and then there was a happy crowd. The Canadiens found the back of the net with Bryce Scarlett beating Sloetjes, restoring his team’s lead. From there, the 73’s would give it their all, but the Canadiens were too much, adding a goal with one-minute to play, sealing the 3-1 victory, and punching their ticket to the next round.

With the loss comes the end of the junior hockey careers of Liam Hall, Jake Fields, Conor Dembinski, and Shane Depelsmaeker. All four played over 100 games in the PJHL. Dembinski led the way, appearing in 137 games, 133 of which were with the 73’s.

  The 73’s will also have an interesting off-season ahead, with key decisions to make, carrying seven 2003-born players on their roster currently. They are only permitted to have four next season. There will be plenty of time for Mike Pailey and the rest of 73’s to unpack, process, and prepare for next season as they look to bring home the Stobbs Division title once again.

For Lakeshore, it marks the 6th consecutive season in which it has ended the 73’s season. As the handshake lines began, there was clear respect on both sides, with many of them playing together previously. For Lakeshore’s Anthony Iaquinta, Milan Dobric, and Ron Soucie, it was the opportunity to defeat their mentors and former coaches, congratulate them, and share a word at the end of a long, hard-fought series. 

  The Canadiens now advance to face the Trojans in a best-of-seven series to determine the Western Champions.


bottom of page