By Callum Fraser
With five out of the seven games decided by one goal, the 2016 Central Canada Jr. ‘A’ Hockey League Bogart Cup final between the Ottawa Jr. Senators and Carleton Place Canadians was certainly one for the ages.
While the Canadians came into the series heavily favoured for their third-straight championship trophy, the Jr. Sens were a team that had shown shades of dominance in the postseason.
Both were vastly different structured squads. Carleton Place had size on their side. With a smaller home rink, they were built for defence, hitting and overall intimidation. Ottawa boasted a speedy, talented group that lit up the postseason points race with the top-3 scorers.
The final turned out a great deal closer than many expected.
Carleton Place took the first two games, needing a total of four overtime periods to jump ahead to a 2-0 series lead. Lucas Batt and Brett Murray played OT heroes for the Canadians as they took a stranglehold over the Jr. Sens.
Then it was Ottawa’s turn. A pair of goals from St. John’s native Luke McCaw helped bring them back in the series with a 4-3 win in Game 3, and two from Isaac Anderson in Game 4 sealed a 3-2 victory to bring the best-of-7 back to even.
After the Canadians put on a convincing 3-0 performance at home in Game 5 to put them in position to clinch the championship up 3-2, the Jr. Senators needed to stay alive going back to Ottawa for possibly the last game of their season.
And they stayed alive in a powerful way.
In front of the biggest crowd of the year – 1,131 fans packed into Jim Durrell Complex on a Saturday night, leaving the parking lot completely full and nearby side-streets jammed as well – the Jr. Sens put on an offensive clinic in a statement game, responding with a shutout of their own in a 7-0 drubbing.
“They were giving up the red line, we were entering their zone easily and just making plays,” explained Ottawa head coach Martin Dagenais. “All the pressure, neutral zone play, and forecheck I thought was good, too. We have a lot of speed and I think they struggled with that.”
While Mitchell Gibson headlined the action with a hat trick, it was hometown kid Jaren Burke who scored two goals of his own and made a large impact early on in the game like he’s done many times this postseason.
“Burkey is just a character kid,” Dagenais underlined. “We played him in the playoffs last year, he played for Gloucester, and he was their best forward. When we acquired Burkey, there were some ups and downs, but he’s a big guy – you know, (Carleton Place) have so many big bodies – so we need guys like him that can get the puck to the net. It was a huge game for him.”
The Jr. Senators had forced a Game 7; something the critics thought was out of the question coming into the final.
“We’re happy with the effort,” noted Dagenais, who was mobbed by supporters after the game looking to congratulate the coach. “But it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win Game 7 tomorrow.
“We have to come out with the same energy, come out the exact same way and give ourselves a chance. It’s not an easy barn to win in, but again, in a Game 7 anything can happen.”
On Sunday afternoon at Carleton Place Arena, Ottawa ended up on the wrong side of the fifth one-goal game of the series, unable to draw the equalizer in a 3-2 contest.
“We played another good game,” signalled Dagenais, emotional after the Game 7 loss. “We just didn’t have some of the bounces go our way. That’s the way it is sometimes.
“It’s unfortunate that a bounce here and there in Game 7 was the difference, but good teams find a way to win.”
Jordan Larson’s second period goal finished as the game-winner, and in front of a home crowd of 700 fans, the Canadians were champions once again.
“On paper, everyone knew that they were the best team,” Dagenais indicated. “They were a powerhouse team. I thought our guys played very hard and for the most part in the series we brought the play to them.”
Despite the sting of the narrow defeat in the deciding game, Dagenais noted that “it’s a step in the right direction” for a club on the upswing, having reached its first league final since the last title in 2001-02 season.
“To get this experience, it will help us out in the future – the coaches and the players,” added the Jr. Sens owner, general manager and head coach of the franchise that has won four straight Yzerman Division regular season crowns.
The team will lose around 10-12 current players next year, but Ottawa won’t be rebuilding, Dagenais stressed.
“We’re reloading,” he underlined. “Mark my words; we’ll be near the top next season.”
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