Playoff Preview: Round One

By: Daniel Vazzoler

The Carleton Place Canadians will begin their chase for the Bogart Cup with a Round One matchup against the Smiths Falls Bears.

The series will get started on Friday but, before the action gets underway, here is a preview of the sixth-seed Canadians facing the third-seed Bears.

The meetings between the two teams didn’t favour the Canadians, dropping four of the five games in the regular season.

Smiths Falls won the first game back on Nov. 18 by 5-1 on home ice and then the teams waited three months before facing off again. Carleton Place and Smiths Falls wrapped up their season series with four games in just over two weeks – when the Bears were playing at their best.

“It’s a team we’ve struggled against but, we also know, we haven’t given them our best,” Canadians head coach Brent Sullivan said. “We don’t know if we’ve lost to them because they’ve out-played us or us just not showing up 100 per cent. Our guys are excited for the opportunity and they’re excited for the challenge.”

While the wins and losses were favoured heavily for Smiths Falls, the scores show the series could prove to be a close one. Aside from the November loss and a 6-0 loss on Feb. 28, the other three games were decided by just a single goal – including two games that went to over-time.

Sullivan said the team looks at the fact it took the Bears to over-time twice and won a close game as well. The offensive abilities of the Bears are not lost on the Canadians coach, saying his team needs to commit to playing a tough, physical, defensive style of hockey to shut down the league’s highest-scoring team.

“At the same time too, I’m confident in our group and we don’t want to be sitting on our heels here,” he added. “It was up until recently that we were neck-and-neck with these guys […] and we have a lot of confidence in this group. I’ll continue saying it, we are looking forward to the opportunity.”

The player to keep an eye on from the Bears is, without a doubt, Sean James. James is the reigning CCHL MVP and appears to be the favourite to win it a second time this season. He was also named to the All-Graduate team in the CCHL along with being named Top Graduating Player this season.

On the season, James led the league in scoring with 42 goals and 86 points. The Canadians had their struggles at keeping him off the score-sheet, with James picking up two goals and 11 points in the five games played against Carleton Place.

“He’s a guy who makes a lot of one-touch plays, a lot of heads-up plays and doesn’t need a lot of time and space to create opportunities. Having good stick-on-puck, good gap control and good coverage should be able to make it a little harder on him,” said Sullivan.

“Skilled guys, you have to play them hard. You have to play them physical and not allow them to just play shinny hockey,” he continued. “For us, it’s going to be important to bring that physical element and make him feel he has no time and space.”

The Canadians aren’t lacking on the offense themselves. Matteo Disipio and Derek Hamilton finished third and fourth respectively in league scoring and Brandon Walker led all CCHL defencemen in scoring with 50 points on the season.

Disipio put up 38 goals, good enough for second in the league, as part of his 76 points; Hamilton, meanwhile, had 74 points and led the CCHL with 52 assists to help him be named to the All-Graduate team along with Walker.

“There’s got to be a ‘respect, but don’t fear’ approach but our guys can play with these guys,” Sullivan expressed. “We’re a very highly talented team, we play with a lot of pace. I think our guys need to feel confident going into the series knowing they can play (well) against anybody.”

The series should be an exciting one on the ice, but also can create the chance for great atmospheres at both arenas. The rinks being less than 30 minutes apart means both fan bases can easily travel to both rinks to cheer on their teams, leading to intense crowds for each game of the series.

“This group doesn’t know what’s coming yet. I’ve been trying to tell them all season long that Carleton Place is a special place to play and, once you get to this time of the year, the town wraps itself around you,” said Sullivan. “If you’re able to put a good team on the ice, the support is going to be there. Combine that with a team that’s only 20 minutes down the road and it should be quite the atmosphere and I know our boys are going to show up ready to go.”

Smiths Falls will have the home-ice advantage with the location going back-and-forth for each game. The Bears will host Game One on Friday at 7:30 p.m. before the series shifts to Carleton Place for the first time on Sunday with a 3 p.m. puck-drop.

Canadians season-ticket holders will have the first opportunity to purchase tickets to Games Two and Four on Thursday with a pre-sale going on from 5-6 p.m. at the Carleton Place Arena before another chance to purchase tickets along with the general public on Saturday 2-3 p.m.

Series Schedule

Game One: Fri., Mar. 24, 2023 – 7:30 p.m. @ Smiths Falls Memorial Centre

Game Two: Sun., Mar. 26, 2023 – 3:00 p.m @ Carleton Place Arena

Game Three: Tues., Mar. 28, 2023 – 7:30 p.m. @ Smiths Falls Memorial Centre

Game Four: Wed., Mar. 29, 2023 – 7:00 p.m. @ Carleton Place Arena

*Game Five: Fri., Mar. 31, 2023 – 7:30 p.m. @ Smiths Falls Memorial Centre

*Game Six: Sun., Apr. 2, 2023 – 3:00 p.m. @ Carleton Place Arena

*Game Seven: Tues., Apr. 4, 2023 – 7:30 p.m. @ Smiths Falls Memorial Centre