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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

73’s push away Blades, drawing Canadiens in Stobbs finals

by Garrett Fodor

The Essex 73’s is now shifting attention to a familiar opponent after starting and finishing the semi-final matchup, looking to raise the Stobbs trophy once again.

  The 73’s drew the third-seeded Blenheim Blades in the semi-finals of the Stobbs Division Playoffs, which kicked-off on March 12. The best-of-seven series lasted just five-days, with the 73’s rattling off four consecutive wins.

  The series began with the 73’s welcoming the Blades to town. It was the Blades, however, that welcomed the home side to the series. Getting the early jump on the game, the Blades scored once in the first 75-seconds and then added a tally midway through the first to double the lead.

  The offense then began to fire for the 73’s, testing goaltender, Owen Lemieux. They eventually got on the board in the first period, before exchanging goals in the second period to trail 3-2 through 40-minutes of play.

  In the third period, the 73’s offense continued to be too much to handle for the Blades’ skaters. Conor Debinski tied the game with his second of the night, just over one-minute into the final frame of regulation. From there, it was veteran Nate Dowling giving the 73’s its first lead of the game with 12-minutes to play. The Blades were unable to beat Wyatt Sloetjes again, as Essex took a nail-biting 4-3 victory, while outshooting the Blades 42-13. 

  The series shifted to Blenheim 48-hours later, last Thursday, for game two. While the goalies were the same, Lemieux for the Blades and Sloetjes for the 73’s, it was the visiting 73’s this time that opened the scoring. The top line of Kale Couvillon, Liam Hall, and Gabe Piccolo scored a pair of goals to hold a 2-0 lead through the first intermission. 

  Dowling made it 3-0 early into the second period before the Blades got on the board. Their excitement in the crowd of nearly 900 fans was short-lived with Luke Sherk restoring the three-goal lead shortly after. They held the 4-1 lead heading into the second intermission, through 40- minutes of play, while the shots were tied a 20 each. 

  In the third period, the 73’s continued to limit scoring chances on Sloetjes and the slot area, while Dowling added his second of the night and fourth of the postseason. The Blades added a goal late, as Essex took game two with a score of 5-2.

  Next on the docket was a return to Essex on Saturday for game three. The Blades turned to goaltender Jake Vancoillie for his first start of the series and first game action since their first-round matchup against Amherstburg. Across the ice, the 73’s leaned on Sloetjes once again for his third consecutive start. Switching to Vancoillie made the difference early, shutting the door on the 73’s in the first period, and turning aside all 13 shots he faced to keep it deadlocked through 20-minutes. 

  The Blades opened the scoring five-minutes into the second period with Matt Hayter beating Sloetjes for the game’s first goal. Closing out the frame, the 73’s once again level themselves with a goal from Nate Dowling with just over three-minutes to play in period two. 

  In the third period, Dowling gave the 73’s its first lead of the game midway through the frame. Just 37-seconds later, Conor Dembinski doubled it, beating Vancoillie for his fourth goal of the postseason. When the horn sounded, the 73’s held a 3-1 win, while outshooting the Blades 51-19. 

  With a 3-0 series lead, the 73’s hit the road Sunday, travelling to Blenheim and looking to punch their ticket to the Stobbs Finals. The 73’s gave Adrian McBride the start, while the Blades turned back to Vancoillie once again. Following suit like the rest of the series, the visiting team opened the scoring, with Liam Hall giving the 73’s a 1-0 lead just five-minutes in. The goal stood as the lone goal in the first period, creating a tense second period. 

  Coming out of the intermission, it was the Blades that got a spark when Landon Hoskins beat McBride, tying the game. The 73’s continued to hunt offensively, looking for the deciding goal. With just eight-minutes to go in the second period, Seth Martineau unloaded a shot from the point and he found the net, restoring their lead and bringing a sigh of relief for the travelling 73’s faithful. 

  Holding a 2-1 lead coming out of the second intermission, they would continue to look to increase their lead, eventually breaking through once again. Jayden Seguin scored three-minutes into the third period and Nate Dowling added a goal late, sealing a 4-1 victory and completing the four-game sweep.

  Through eight-games, Dowling leads the 73’s in scoring with 13 points in eight playoff games, including six goals against the Blades. 

  With the series victory, the 73’s will now face its cross-county rival, the Lakeshore Canadiens.

  Aside from the COVID-shortened series, where no championship was awarded, the last 18 Stobbs (formally Great Lakes Junior C) titles have been awarded to either of the two teams. For the 73’s players, they are looking to prevent the Canadiens from winning their fifth consecutive title. At the same time, the 73’s will also look to bring the trophy back to Essex and pursue the Schmalz Cup, as the All-Ontario Junior ‘C’ champion. 

  The Canadiens dispatched the Wheatley Sharks in four consecutive games in their semi-final, while also sweeping the Walpole Island Wild in the quarter-finals.

  Since the Canadiens finished atop the regular season standings by a lone point, they will begin the series at home before the 73’s has their first action for game two. A full schedule is yet to be announced at the time of publishing.


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