By: Daniel Vazzoler
The race near the top of the CCHL standings is incredibly tight with a little more than a month remaining in the season.
The Carleton Place Canadians had a chance to close the gap a little bit more with the Navan Grads in town, but ultimately fell short in a 2-1 defeat against the second-ranked team in the league.
Heading into Friday night, the Canadians sat three points back of the Grads and Matteo Disipio’s goal less than four minutes into the game showed they were ready to reduce the deficit to a single point. The momentum, however, started to sway in Navan’s direction and Carleton Place couldn’t get the goals needed to get crucial points in the standings.
“We were disappointed in the game,” Canadians head coach Brent Sullivan said. “I thought we came out strong but backed off emotionally. It’s tough, you pour a lot of emotion and prep into getting the guys ready to go. You want to see that response, the urgency level, the fight and push-back when momentum starts to shift. I didn’t see that from the group (and) it’s disappointing. I know it’s in there with the character and leaders in that room.”
Friday night was a goaltending duel between Navan’s Braedyn McIntosh and Carleton Place’s Jackson Pundyk as each goalie had to be active and ready with the amount of shots they faced. Pundyk stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced while McIntosh made 25 saves on 26 shots – but most of the Canadians shots were from distance and without traffic in front of the opposing net, according to Sullivan.
“Puds has cemented himself as one of the top goalies in the league, he kept us in the game,” Sullivan said of his goaltender. “(Navan) tested him much more than we tested their guy. He was outstanding.”
Pundyk’s strong night was evident even on the goals he allowed.
Prior to Nicholas Paone tying the game late in the first period with a power-play goal, Pundyk made a number of saves to maintain the lead – including extending the left leg for a toe save just seconds before the goal.
In the second period, as the Canadians struggled to find their footing in the frame, Pundyk stopped all nine shots he faced to keep Carleton Place tied and with a chance to win.
Ultimately, the offence couldn’t find a way to beat McIntosh a second and Colin MacDougall’s one-timer from the low slot off the rush proved enough to be the game-winner.
In a game where the Canadians kept it close throughout – and against someone just ahead of them in the standings – Sullivan said the team needed to find a way to get into over-time and at least come away with one point.
Points in the standings are crucial with just 15 games remaining in the season. A streak one way or the other could see the Canadians move to as high as second place – they sit five points back of Navan who occupy that spot – or as low as seventh, where the Brockville Braves sit five points behind Carleton Place.
The importance of the game was not lost on the players, with emotions running high right from the get-go.
“You need that level of emotion and intensity,” Sullivan stated. “It was two of the least penalized teams in the league and everyone knew what was at stake. You could feel the tension, they took that pressure better than we did. Learning opportunity for our group and we still get two more cracks at them the last weekend of the season.”
There’s plenty of business for the Canadians to take care of before these two teams meet up again, though. Next on the schedule for Carleton Place is a chance to bounce back at home on Sunday against the Rockland Nationals – a team in a battle for the final play-off spot and coming off a disappointing loss of their own to the Cornwall Colts on Friday.