Pembroke Lumber Kings ready to battle Ottawa Junior Senators in CCHL quarter-final
While the Pembroke Lumber Kings are expecting a tough playoff series against the Ottawa Junior Senators, the coach is ready to embrace the underdog status and execute to the team's game plan on the way to an upset.
“We definitely know they are favoured, but we feel confident we can beat them,” said Kings's coach and general manage Dale McTavish Tuesday afternoon, a day before the Kings kick off the best-of-seven quarter-final series in Ottawa. “We are similar in that we can skate and score so we feel we can challenge them.”
He acknowledged the Jr. Sens are built for the long run this season as the team prepares to host the Fred Page Cup, the Eastern Canada Junior A Hockey Championship, the first week of May.
In the regular season, Ottawa finished first in the Yzerman Division and second overall in the Central Canada Hockey League with a 46-9-2-5 record, good enough for 99 points, compared to the Kings's seventh place overall finish with a 32-25-4-1 record, which earned the team 69 points.
This is an improvement over last season, however, when the Kings finished last in the league and missed the playoffs all together and particularly since a poll at the beginning of the year pegged Pembroke for another last-place finish.
“We are happy to get in, especially after last season which was disappointing,” McTavish said. “It's nice for the guys although seventh is not exactly where we wanted to be, but we are looking forward to getting back to the playoffs. It was also nice to prove people wrong because we knew we were better than that.”
He also noted the team's eight-game losing streak last December hurt the Kings in the standings as he believes Pembroke could have been in the top-four even by winning half of the games since only 18 points separated third and eighth place in the final standings. He does feel the team rebounded well in January, February and March to gain some ground.
While Ottawa won four of the six games between the two teams this season, McTavish said Pembroke will look to build on its 4-2 win in the final meeting Feb. 28.
“The playoffs are a different game and I think we match up well,” he said.
In the regular season, the Jr. Sens had five players in the top-10 scoring leaders – Chiwetin Blacksmith, Pierre-Luc Veillette, Owen Guy, Nick Lalonde and Darcy Walsh, along with the number one goalie Connor Hicks who, finished third in the league with a .933 save percentage and 1.92 goals-against average.
After playing well down the stretch, Jake Smith will be Pembroke's number one goalie in the playoffs.
“It will be important to get traffic in front of the net and look to get outside the game,” McTavish said. “Goaltending is always huge in the playoffs.”
Pembroke is going into the playoffs with 14 forwards and eight defencemen, with a relatively healthy lineup with the exception of forward Jacob Kamps, who left the March 4 game against Nepean. The coach is hoping he will be able to return to the lineup sooner rather than later.
He will also rely on players that spent the season with the Whitewater Kings, including Peter White who will play in game one Wednesday night in Ottawa.
The first home game of the series is Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Pembroke Memorial Centre. Since it will be the first playoff experience for a number of the players, McTavish is hoping for a good, boisterous HockeyTown Canada crowd.
“We want to see the PMC with a lot of people and a great playoff atmosphere,” he said.
March 14 Pem @ Ott 7:30 p.m.
March 16 Ott @ Pem 7:30 p.m.
March 17 Pem @ Ott 7:30 p.m.
March 20 Ott @ Pem 7:30 p.m.
March 22 Pem @ Ott 7:30 p.m. **
March 25 Ott @ Pem 7 p.m. **
March 27 Pem @ Ott7:30 p.m. **
** if necessary