Port Hope Panthers hungry for provincial junior C hockey championship
Port Hope Panthers captain Cam McGill is seen here after accepting the Provincial Junior Hockey League Tod Division trophy following a recent four-game sweep over the Napanee Raiders. PETE FISHER/Northumberland Today file photo
The Port Hope Panthers are hungry for a provincial junior C hockey championship.
Winning the local league/division title three straight years is certainly an accomplishment, but the Panthers have their sights set on a different championship trophy.
“It's not the end goal...” Panthers captain Cam McGill says of the Provincial Junior Hockey League Tod Division (formerly Empire Junior C Hockey League) championship, “but it's a stepping stone in the right direction.”
This is the third straight year the Panthers swept the Napanee Raiders in four games to capture the local title and continue on in the Ontario Hockey Association Schmalz Cup playoffs.
“It just shows how dominate we've been this year and how good we've been playing as of late,” McGill remarked of this year's series victory against Napanee.
The Panthers, though, are only halfway to their goal of once again competing for the PJHL title. They've won two series and need to win two more to reach the Schmalz Cup championship series for a third straight season.
McGill said the players won't be satisfied with anything less than a Schmalz Cup victory after coming up short the past two seasons, losing to the Essex 73's and Ayr Centennials.
“It's been our goal since day one (this season), even early on in the summer when we had skates just preparing for this year,” McGill said. “It's a real hunger and we really want it this year.”
Port Hope swept the Picton Pirates and Raiders, but now face the Orr Division champion Lakefield Chiefs, who are coming off a four-game sweep over the Clarington Eagles after defeating the Uxbridge Bruins in six games.
The PJHL quarterfinal series (Eastern Conference final) gets underway Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Lakefield as the Chiefs won the coin flip for home-ice advantage.
Game 2 is Saturday night, 7:30 p.m, at the Jack Burger Sports Complex in Port Hope followed by Game 3 on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Lakefield and Game 4 next Tuesday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Port Hope.
As necessary, Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday, March 30 (7:30 p.m.) in Lakefield, Game 6 Saturday, April 1 (7:30 p.m.) in Port Hope and Game 7 Sunday, April 2 (1:30 p.m.) in Lakefield.
Port Hope was 35-3-1 and Lakefield was 32-7-2 during the regular season in their respective loops.
The Panthers have an interesting mix of players. Some, like McGill, who were part of both trips to the Schmalz Cup final the last two years; others who were with the Panthers two seasons ago, moved on to higher levels last season, but returned to Port Hope this season for another shot at the provincial championship; and of course first-year players with the club.
McGill said the new players are just as hungry for a provincial championship as the guys who battled for the Cup the last two seasons.
“They also have that fire in them. They know what's at stake,” he said. “They just don't know how big this actually is, which helps them not get blindsided by the pressure. They just go out and play their game.”
Reaching the Schmalz Cup quarterfinals is “just a big accomplishment for us, for the coaching staff, everyone involved in the organization,” the captain also said. “It just shows how well things are being run and how well the staff is at bringing in players that fit the needs and fit the group. It's just shown over the past three years how we can bring in different guys and it still works.”
McGill said players need to be focused on and off the ice.
“You definitely have to change up your lifestyle,” he said. “You have to change your eating habits, just your daily routine to kind of match how you need to play and approach your body, stay healthy during the day, get your sleep. Just the little things that are going to help you throughout the day.”
The Panthers have been without head coach Mat Goody on the bench since late January while he serves a lengthy suspension following abuse of officials and travesty of game gross misconduct penalties during a game in Napanee.
Goody was originally suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, but following an appeal it was reduced to 20 games.
General manager Ian Green said Goody could return as soon as later in this series, depending how long it goes, as he has just six games left to serve.
“Mat will definitely be on the bench the first game he's eligible,” Green said.
Jay Knuth became acting head coach on the bench during Goody's absence and John Foley returned as an assistant coach, a role he held the past two seasons, to help fill out the staff.
McGill said the consistency of the coaching staff kept the Panthers moving in the right direction. The coaches teach in different ways, but don't sway from the game plan.
“They're all supportive, know the right buttons to push and when to hold back,” McGill said. “They just know how to treat the team and they're very positive on and off the ice. They just keep us going and know what we need.”
Besides the Panthers, there are familiar teams in the final eight for the Schmalz Cup, including Ayr, Essex and the Alliston Hornets, who the Panthers eliminated the past two years in the semifinals.
“Our depth is key,” Green said. “We've got a bunch of good kids here that play hard and the last three years record speaks for itself.”
McGill said the Panthers also get an extra boost from great playoff crowds at home and away.
“Once playoffs roll around you really notice the seats start filling up and it gets louder and louder,” he said. “They're all awesome and I think they cheer us louder than any (junior C) team in Ontario.”