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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Canadiens overturn deficit, defeat 73’s, and claim Stobbs Division championship

by Garrett Fodor

After gaining a 2-1 series lead over the Lakeshore Canadiens in the final round of playoff action, the pair of rivals went into decision week, looking to determine who would wind up the Stobbs Division champions.

Entering the week, the series was anything but predictable. Both teams had flurries of offensive chances, goalies making big saves, and the road team winning each game.

Last Tuesday, the series shifted to Essex for game four. It was the same 73’s who jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, as Tycen Chittle beat Trevor Heslop just 73-seconds into the first period. With an early deficit to overcome, the Canadiens ramped up the pressure, testing 73’s goalie, Jakob Knowles. With five-minutes to play in the first, the Canadiens’ most potent offensive line went to work. Both Eric and Trevor LaRue were left with time and space and found the back of the net, just over two-minutes apart. Essex entered the intermission trailing 2-1.

Coming out of the intermission, the 73’s looked to gain momentum, turning up the pressure on their forecheck and bringing life to the 73’s faithful in attendance. Just over six-minutes into the second, Chittle brought the 73’s even with the Canadiens with his second of the game.

Both teams continued to look to create chances and force turnovers. Closing out the frame, once again with just under five-minutes to play in the frame, Trevor LaRue notched his second of the game, restoring the Canadiens’ lead heading into the intermission.

Canadiens Captain, Dylan Weston, doubled their lead just three-minutes into the frame. Tempers started to flare as the 73’s were stymied by Heslop and the Canadiens’ defense. Both teams had several special team opportunities in the frame, but were unable to use them to their advantage.

The 73’s were unable to beat Heslop and the Canadiens again, falling 4-2. The series was now tied at two wins each, continuing the trend of the road team winning each game.

With the holiday on Friday, the 73’s travelled to Lakeshore to face the Canadiens for game five. Like their previous game, the 73’s opened the scoring, with Matt Smith producing the lone goal in the period. The over-ager forward beat Heslop, in the otherwise quiet period. Both teams were held to eight shots on net.

For period two, the 73’s were quick to open the scoring to get some breathing room from the Canadiens. Just 65-seconds in, Jacob Cruickshank beat Heslop to double their lead, bringing the traveling 73’s fans to their feet. Following the goal, the Canadiens began to bring a new life to their game. They were quick to ramp up the pressure, spending a majority of the period in the 73’s defensive end. Their relentless pressure and forechecking paid-off, midway through the period, when Marco Sladoje beat Knowles, cutting the 73’s lead to one.

Closing out the frame, the Canadiens drew even with two-minutes remaining in the frame, setting up for a nail-biting third period. Through 40-minutes of play, both teams were tied at two, while the Canadiens outshot the 73’s 26-16.

In the final frame of regulation, the teams fought tooth and nail for any extra space they could get as they looked to find the back of the net. With the battles, however, comes the risk of penalties. The 73’s players were sent to the box three times in the period and it took the Canadiens just over 20-seconds to make them pay, when Trevor LaRue gave the Canadiens their first lead of the game.

While the 73’s pushed and pressured, Heslop held strong and would not give the 73’s any opportunity to find the twine. The Canadiens secured a 3-2 victory to take their first series lead.

On the verge of elimination, the series shifted to Essex for a make-or-break deciding game six. With 1073 fans in attendance, the teams came out of the gate with speed, but cautious, looking not to stumble out of the gate.

Much like game one, the start of the period was a feeling out process; physical and quick, but neither team was looking to make a costly mistake. The 73’s opened the scoring with five-minutes remaining in the first period as Carter Dembinski beat Canadiens’ Goaltender, Trevor Heslop, for the lone goal of the period, capitalizing with the man-advantage. Shots in the opening frame were tied 8-8.

In the second period, Trevor LaRue continued to wreak havoc on the 73’s defenders and goaltender, Jakob Knowles. The forward beat Knowles for his 16th goal of the post-season to tie the game at one. Through 40-minutes of play, shots were 19-11 in favor of Essex. Unlike the previous games of the series, both teams had limited special team opportunities, keeping penalties to a minimum.

Just over two-minutes into the third period, Dembinski notched his second of the evening to restore the 73’s lead. With the lead, both teams continued to push chances and looked to find the back of the net. The tense atmosphere could be felt throughout the arena, as fans gasped at each end of the rink, with both goalies making big saves to keep their team in it.

Midway through the frame, the Canadiens drew even and forced overtime for the first time this series.

During the opening minutes of overtime, both teams were quick to rush up the ice, trying to end the game. Just over eight-minutes in, Trevor LaRue was the beneficiary of a bounce, as he got the puck in tight, hitting a 73’s skater and deflecting it into the net, sealing the game 3-2 and the series, 4-2. Final shot totals were 28-23 in favor of Essex.

For the Canadiens, this marks the third straight season when its completed the playoffs, having won the Stobbs Division championship.

The Canadiens now advance to face off against the North Middlesex Stars.

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