By: Daniel Vazzoler
The 2022-23 campaign is officially over for the Carleton Place Canadians following their 5-4 loss to the Smiths Falls Bears in Game Five of the CCHL quarter-final series, losing the series 4-1.
After splitting the first two games, Carleton Place couldn’t replicate its success from Game Two – dropping Games Three and Four 3-0 before a hard-fought battle on Friday to try and keep the season alive.
Matteo Disipio got the Canadians off to a hot start, opening the scoring just 0:50 into the game. The lead was short-lived, however, with the Bears answering back with a pair of goals from Riley Thompson before the midway mark of the first period.
“Now is not really the time to reflect on that,” said Canadians head coach Brent Sullivan of the plays leading to the first two Smiths Falls goals. “It’s just appreciating the no-quit attitude. It was something we talked about pre-game, we obviously didn’t want (Friday) to be the last one but, if it was, that our identity was clear.”
The Canadians never quit on the game and showed the buy-in to the culture Sullivan and the coaching staff is trying to instill.
After a scoreless second period, Derek Hamilton scored 1:05 into the third period to tie the game and create a sense of belief the Canadians could survive to play another game.
Smiths Falls stopped that momentum with another pair of goals in response to the one they allowed. Alec Hamady restored the lead less than 1:30 after Hamilton’s goal before Thompson capped off his hat-trick.
Still, Carleton Place kept the pressure on Smiths Falls. Bill Gourgon brought the Canadians to within one goal with just over eight minutes left in the game. Conor Ronayne stretched the lead back out to two, but Hamilton made the final minute interesting scoring his second goal of the game with 0:45 remaining in the third period.
“Every single day, as a competitor, you want to win. But I was proud to see the energy and emotion,” expressed Sullivan. “It was a group I was incredibly proud of all year, was very tight. The 20-year-olds are going to be missed.”
Sullivan has never been shy to praise the group of veterans he had this season, and they were a group that continued to make an impact in the post-season.
In what proved to be his final game with Carleton Place, Hamilton showed the offensive skill-set that made him a dynamic player as he finished with three points in Game Five. The shut-down pairing of captain Evan Jamieson and, CCHL Defenseman of the Year, Brandon Walker was tasked in limiting the offense of the Bears top line.
All season long, Cole McGuire was a steadying presence along the blue-line – a fact that didn’t change and was relied upon in the post-season. Joe Chambers competed all year to get the starting role come the post-season and ensured his team-mates had a chance to win each night. Despite not being in the line-up, that didn’t stop Gino Colangelo from helping his team as best he could in the series against Smiths Falls.
“They will be impossible to replace, I’ve said that from Day One,” Sullivan stated. “Joe Chambers was my first trade and I remember every conversation. I remember emailing Derek Hamilton introducing myself and he gave me a one-word answer and I thought ‘This guy’s not coming back,’ and next thing you know, he’s here for two years and he’s my MVP.
“Brandon Walker was sitting at home, Evan Jamieson was sitting at home, Gino Colangelo has been the most unbelievable person since I took this program over,” Sullivan continued. “I’ve had to lean on (Colangelo) and Hammy a lot from the start because they were the two guys here from before me. Cole McGuire was an add this summer because I wanted leadership and he was nothing but a fourth coach. He was unbelievable all year and one of the best team-mates I’ve ever seen.”
Despite the loss of those key pieces, there is still the potential for continuity heading into next season. Sullivan said he didn’t make many changes during the season because of how strong the relationships were between the guys on the team. There isn’t much need for change before next season either, with 12 forwards, four defencemen and goaltender Jackson Pundyk eligible to return – along with the strong start to recruiting already done during the year.
“The future is incredibly bright. This was (Caton Ryan)’s best game in two months and it was a do-or-die play-off game, that’s incredible to see from a 16-year-old,” praised Sullivan. “Thomas Dickey was playing so well, Carter Pilon was good out there. It was something we had to do (last year), we had to rebuild and we were blessed to have incredible 20-year-olds […] but the youth of this team and the guys that are returning, we have a lot to be excited about.”