Rivermen off to EOSHL finals

KINBURN – The first game was a scare, but in the end, the top-seeded West Carleton Rivermen were too much for the Millionaires in the first round of the Eastern Ontario Senior A Hockey League (EOSHL) playoffs.

The Rivermen hosted the first game of the three-game series Friday night (Feb. 7) in Kinburn at the Cavanagh Sensplex. It was a surprisingly close 8-7 overtime win for the Rivermen (14-2-1-1 regular season) who had 12 more wins than the Maxville Millionaires (2-16) in the 18-game regular season.

The Millionaires ended the first period with a 2-1 lead – former Ottawa 67’s Brett Gustavsen scoring for the Rivermen with less than five minutes left in the opening frame.

The Rivermen came out with three goals in the third – two from Alex Hulford and Ryley Egan getting his first of the playoffs. Then came a wild third. The Rivermen added to their lead with goals by Riley Hennigar, Blake Forslund and Gustavsen with his second. Maxville went on to score the next five goals tying the game and sending it to overtime.

Gustavsen finished off the hat trick 15 minutes in to overtime.

“The team came out very slow in the first period, and we were able to escape only down 2-1,” Rivermen coach and general manager Mike Byrne told West Carleton Online yesterday (Feb. 11). “We got back to our normal pace in the second but slowed up in the last 10 minutes of the third. A couple bad bounces, some defensive breakdowns and some nice plays by Maxville lead to the game being tied at seven. Gustavsen took things to another level after Maxville tied the game and after nearly ending the game earlier in overtime, found the back of the net to give us the series lead.”

The second game, the very next evening, Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Maxville Sports Complex, was a little closer to what those who follow the league expected – a 13-1 pasting – giving the Rivermen the series sweep. Zack Rheaume, Sam McLaughlin, Galetta’s Adrian Moyes, Riley Hennigar, Stevie Ray Adams and Mark Craig all had three points in the win. Basem Awwad got the Gordie Howe hat trick and ended the game with a goal, assist and 15 penalty minutes.

The game was a chippy affair with 41 total penalty minutes in the third period alone.

Coach Byrne said it was a closer series than the second game may have showed.

“The Maxville team should be commended for their work ethic, which is something I am envious of as a coach,” he said. “Even with a short bench on Friday, they didn’t stop working, even when down by five goals.”

The coach hopes that game shows his players a 60-minute effort is required every night.

“Friday served as a wake-up call for our team, and the team brought up the intensity level right at puck drop on Saturday,” Byrne said. “Hulford threw a hit on the forecheck 10 seconds in to the game Saturday, which lead to a turnover and a goal. That really set the pace for the rest of the game. With that said, the 13-1 score on Saturday does not reflect the competitiveness of the series, and I have a lot of respect for the Maxville team and their compete level.”

Now the Rivermen wait. The Deseronto Bulldogs-Cornwall Prowlers series is going to a third game played this Saturday (Feb. 15). The underdog Bulldogs won the first game 6-5 on Feb. 8 but lost 10-3 on Sunday, Feb. 9.

Whoever the Rivermen face in the EOSHL finals, Byrne says it will be a battle.

“Two very good teams, and we are in for a great series regardless of who we play,” he said. “Both teams have a high compete level and great goaltending. Deseronto plays a physical game, so we would have to focus on not putting ourselves in tough positions and staying out of the box. Cornwall has a highly skilled team, as proven by the number of players in the league scoring leaders, and we will have to ensure we do not have any defensive breakdowns, as they would certainly make us pay. From our perspective, we have no preference who we play, and we are looking forward to a great series against a great team.”

Lexie returns

The Rivermen had a special guest in the stands for their first playoff game in team history. Superfan and Dunrobin native Lexie York was in attendance as she continues to recover from a vicious beating she received while on vacation in Mexico.

Team owner Moyes and his wife are close family friends, and York attended the Rivermen’s inaugural home game. On Dec. 6 the Rivermen hosted a fundraiser as part of their game that night to help support their friend’s recovery.

“We were happy to welcome Lexie back to watch our first ever playoff game,” Moyes said. “We are so thrilled that she is on the mend and was well enough to come see us play. Lexie, we love you and thank you so much for coming out to watch the game.”