By: Daniel Vazzoler
Nobody expected it to be smooth sailing for the Carleton Place Canadians following the CJHL trade deadline, with head coach Brent Sullivan saying difficult times may be ahead.
Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Rockland Nationals may have been a reflection of that, and Wednesday’s 6-4 win over the Nepean Raiders was a hint of what’s to come in the future for the Canadians.
Carleton Place dictated most of the play to start Sunday’s game before dropping the game. It was a chance to strengthen their grip on the final playoff spot. Instead of extending the five-point lead Carleton Place had over the Nationals, the Canadians had their lead diminish to three points.
The young group of Canadians had a learning opportunity on Sunday with the pressure-packed game. Many of the Carleton Place players haven’t had to deal with a stretch to end the regular season with a playoff spot on the line.
“The message was pretty clear cut how urgent this game was,” Sullivan said following Sunday’s game. “I consider it a one-point gap at this point. They have a game in hand (over us), I’m going to consider it a win. You cannot get more urgent than that.”
The urgency for the Canadians kicked in on Wednesday in Nepean.
Carleton Place was short a handful of regulars from its line-up and had to rely on some call-ups to help get the win. J.J. Swyer opened up the scoring for the Canadians on route to a critical win. It wasn’t the prettiest of games for Carleton Place, as the team watched a 5-1 lead turn into a 5-4 advantage in the final few minutes of the game, but two points are two points.
“It was a gutsy win,” Sullivan expressed after the win. “We had three injuries in the game so we went down to 10 forwards and five D. We already had three call-ups on forward and had a call-up goalie in net.”
That call-up goalie, Jackson Pundyk, earned the victory in his Jr A debut and also received second star of the game for his 29-save performance.
“Kid battled and competed. It was exactly what our group needed,” expressed Sullivan.
After having success earlier in the month not turning into team success, the Canadians power play played a role in getting the win on Wednesday. Swyer scored on the man-advantage and Gino Colangelo added the game-winning goal on the power play in the third period as well.
As this young team will have moving forward, a lesson was learned in the victory. Veteran teams have a way of shutting down the opposition when up large to comfortably sail to the end of the game without giving the other team a sniff at coming back.
That was not the case Wednesday.
Three goals in 6:14 put the Raiders down by a single goal going into the final minute of regulation. But the Canadians showed they have what it takes to be a good team and found a way to hold on for the two points.
“The boys competed and, in these times with the injury issues we’re having, take the two points and run,” Sullivan said. “Learning how to close out a game is an important skill to learn. Guys need to understand proper habits and how to manage a lead. It was a nice learning opportunity for the group with some guys getting put in key situations they may not have been in before.”
A beleaguered group for Carleton Place faces a stiff test in the weekend ahead. The Canadians kick off three games in four days with a road trip to face the Renfrew Wolves on Friday. Then, it’s the tail-end of the home-and-home against the Wolves on Sunday before the Smiths Falls Bears make a visit to the Carleton Place Arena on the Family Day Monday.