Port Hope Panthers use depth as a weapon

Tim Gordanier

Postmedia Network

Brad Bollert’s two goals — one tying the game in the third period and the other winning it in overtime — did more than just give the Port Hope Panthers a victory in their final game of Provincial Junior Hockey League regular season Saturday night.

The goals also put the Tod Division pennant-winning Panthers among the top two local junior C teams in the past 10 seasons in terms of offensive depth — if the number of both 20-goal scorers and 30-point scorers on a team can be used as a guide.

Bollert’s overtime goal in Port Hope’s 3-2 victory over the Gananoque Islanders in Port Hope was his 20th goal of the season and made him the fifth Panther this season to reach that plateau.

Only one team in the past 10 years has boasted more 20-goal scorers — the 2007-08 Amherstview Jets, who had six — and only three teams besides the Panthers have had five 20-goal scorers — the ’07-08 Napanee Raiders, the ’08-09 Jets and the ’13-14 Picton Pirates.

Points-wise, the Panthers head into the playoffs counting 11 players with 30 points or more. That puts them just one player shy of the dozen Jets who turned the trick in ’07-08.

Defensively, the Panthers allowed only 74 goals — third lowest in the past 10 seasons — with Sheldon Calbury (1.82 goals-against average) and Eric Jackson (2.30) manning the crease for the bulk of the time.

The only two teams stingier since 2007-08 were the ’13-14 Pirates (62 goals against) and the ’15-16 Panthers (72).

All five of the historical teams mentioned above advanced to the local junior C league final, with four winning the championship.

It was also Port Hope’s 35th win of the season, leaving it third overall in local junior C history in that regard. The ’08-09 Raiders won a record 37 games, followed by the ’13-14 Pirates with 36. Points-wise, the Panthers, with 71 (35-3-1), finished three points back of the ’08-09 Raiders (37-3-0-74) and the ’13-14 Pirates (36-2-2-74).

The heavily favoured Panthers will be gunning for a third consecutive local junior C title (their previous two came in the Empire B Junior C Hockey League before it was rebranded this season) and also hope to make a third straight appearance in the Schmalz Cup final.

The other three teams in the semifinals — second-place Napanee, third-place Gananoque and fourth-place Picton — have all won junior C titles, too, some recent and some not so recent.

Napanee’s most recent of its nine overall titles since the Eastern Ontario Junior C Hockey League formed in 1989-90 (it became the Empire league in 1996-97) came in 2009-10. Gananoque’s last came three leagues and 32 years ago in 1984-85 when the loop was known as the Quinte-St. Lawrence Junior C Hockey League. Picton captured 2013-14 Empire bragging rights to complete a three-championships-in-four-seasons run. The Pirates have four titles overall.

Following is a closer look at the Tod Division semifinals.

• No. 1 Port Hope (39-35-3-1-227-74-71) vs. No. 4 Picton (40-20-19-1-158-143-41)

How do you describe your opponent?

“Picton is a hard-working, relentless team. They’ve had good goaltending from Aaron Young all season long. They also have a couple offensive players that can hurt you if you take a shift off. They’re a team that can score off the rush which makes them dangerous.“ — Panthers head coach Mat Goody.

“Port Hope didn’t play the first 30 games without a loss by fluke. They are a four-lines-deep hockey team that has the best player in the league in Dalton Lawrence [the Tod Division’s scoring champ and most valuable player]. They are big and physical.” — Pirates head coach Chris Masterson.

How will your team have to play to win the series?

“For us nothing changes. We need to be strong and responsible on our forecheck. The neutral zone is key. We need to control that area of the ice and not allow them clean entries to our zone. We need to stay disciplined. And simply put, our best players have to be our best players. Our depth is a weapon and we need to use that to our advantage.” — Goody.

“We will have to be very strong defensively, stay out of the box, shut down Lawrence and get great goaltending. Those are the keys for us and we need all four things to pull off the upset. We are the underdogs and as such we feel the pressure is on them.” — Masterson.

Do you have any lineup changes heading into the playoffs?

“Only one lineup change. We have acquired [21-year-old free agent forward] Christian Lea of Whitby.” — Goody.

“Right now we have goalie Brendan Macham out, and defenceman Tyson Cassidy, Mitchell Burke, Mitchell Thompson. And of course our leading scorer in Dawson Ellis for first three games [with suspension].” — Masterson. 

Port Hope: How did last week’s suspension appeals go for you and goaltender Sheldon Calbury? (Goody and Calbury got the longest of the suspensions handed out in a Jan. 28 game in Napanee: Goody remainder of regular season and all of the playoffs for abuse of officials and travesty of the game; Calbury 10 games for physical abuse of an official for shooting the puck at a linesman, and hitting him, after a Napanee goal.)

“Sheldon’s suspension has been reduced to five games from 10. Mine has been reduced and I should be back at some point.” — Goody

Picton: What do you believe caused your slide at the end of the season (1-6 in the last seven games)?

“Our slide started with losing one of our top defenceman in Matthew Panetta with a concussion against Port Hope. He will be back for the playoffs. Shortly after losing Panetta, we lost two other defence in Nick Kyte and Tyson Cassidy. Being down three of seven defence over the last six or seven games really hurt us. As well, we have been short at least one forward all year. We did not play one game with our full roster all year. It really seemed like bad timing for injuries and suspensions at the end of the year.” — Masterson.

• No. 2 Napanee (40-27-12-1-199-94-55) vs. No. 3 Gananoque (40-21-18-1-160-144-43)

How do you describe your opponent?

“Gananoque’s play over the past month is no fluke. They have improved themselves over the course of the season and late additions like Braedyn Asselstine and Patrick Lyster, who have played at higher levels, help. Their big, physical forwards are hard to contain, they have some mobile defencemen who like to join the rush, and they’re backstopped by a very capable goaltender with a good junior A resume in Doug Johnston. They’ll be a tough team to beat in a seven-game series.” — Raiders general manager Adam Bramburger.

“Napanee is a very good team. They are well balanced through their lineup.” — Islanders general manager Tom Dickson.

How will your team have to play to win the series?

“We have to play the same game that has brought us our success all year. We need to move the puck and use our speed to our advantage, get pucks on net and traffic in front, and make simple plays to exit our own zone. Ideally, we’d like to have all four lines involved.” — Bramburger.

“We will need to match their speed, get traffic to the net, be aggressive but stay out of the box, and we need to be better than they are on special teams.” — Dickson.

Do you have any lineup changes heading into the playoffs?

“We’re going in with our lineup fairly intact. Depending on the schedule, we may be able to get Josh Murphy in and he could give us a spark.” — Bramburger.

“Nothing major. We’re hoping our [injured] captain, [defenceman] Brody Cross, will be available at some point in the series.” — Dickson

Napanee: The Raiders put together an impressive charge at the end of the season (9-0-1 in last 10 games). What went right?

“Our discipline has been a factor all season. We’re the least penalized playoff team in the PJHL by a considerable margin and we know that staying out of the penalty box will help us win hockey games.

“Over the last month or so, overager Austin Boulard has really stepped up his play. He has the ability to be a game-changer on any night and he’s really found good chemistry with Justynn Steven and Griffen Conger.

“Our goaltending has been giving us the saves we need. Jeremy Wasson has put together a nice stretch of wins and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. Matt Loveys has also been good when he’s been in the net.” — Bramburger.

Gananoque: What was the key to your late-season charge (9-2 in last 11 games)?

“The additions of [goaltender] Doug Johnston and [defenceman] Braedyn Asselstine have just made our team complete. We played with a full roster for a majority of the streak and that was the difference.” — Dickson.