Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Merchants have a stranglehold

Depending on your loyalties, the opening weekend of the Niagara District Junior C League's west division semifinal series was either very, very good or very, very bad.

For Norwich Merchants fans, the weekend unfolded like a dream -- a three-game sweep that gave their team an almost unassailable 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. For Woodstock Renegades fans, the weekend quickly became a nightmare, with their team dropping what was likely a must-win game Sunday to dash any hopes of an upset.

"I thought we played well," Norwich coach Chad Paton said. "The guys are playing playoff hockey."

The Renegades had desperately wanted a different ending to Sunday's 4-1 loss but struggled against a drum-tight Norwich defence. For the first two frames, the Renegades failed to muster much of an offence apart from Craig Thomson's goal in the final moments of the second period. While the Renegades earned better chances in the third, the Merchants still didn't give their guests too much room to move. Some late-game penalty trouble also hindered the 'Gades, who suddenly had to switch their focus from scoring to surviving. Still, Norwich's Aaron Wirth managed to knock in a late goal that kind of underscored the weekend.

"Shots have been our problem," Woodstock coach Bill McLeod said. "We're getting opportunities to make them but not that many."

Norwich's Addison Fisher scored what would turn out to be the winning goal on a second- period power play while Nathan Geerlinks added some insurance later in the frame. Chad Barclay, who now has 11 points in the postseason, opened the Norwich scoring midway through the first period.

Despite the frustration of three straight losses, the Renegades remained committed to somehow taking this semifinal series from the defending Niagara League champs.

"We know what we have to do on Friday," Woodstock's Dan Phillips said. "There's nothing else."

While the Merchants hope for a series sweep, Paton acknowledged the hardest game to win could be the next one. With Woodstock goalie Alex Gegeny continuing his stellar play against the Merchants, and the other Renegades playing some gritty playoff hockey, Paton was quite ready to start thinking about the west division finals.

"We still have to take it one game at a time," the Norwich coach said. "We still have to win one more game."

The opening two games of the series were a little closer than Sunday's tilt. On Saturday, the Merchants managed to edge the Renegades for a 2-1 win when Barclay scored midway through the third period.

Norwich opened the Game 2 scoring when Curtis Logan knocked in a power-play goal early in the first from his brother Chris Logan. Woodstock's Brandon Zimmerman gave the hometown fans a reason to cheer later in the period, responding with his own power-play goal to knot the score 1-1.

The opening game of the series was also decided by a single goal, with the Merchants' Stuart Preston scoring the go-ahead goal on a later-game power play. Barclay and former Renegade Mike Brilhante rounded out the Norwich scoring while Travis Horvath and Devon Young (pp) answered for the 'Gades.

"The first two games could have gone either way," Paton said. "They were both decided by late goals."

Norwich will attempt to close out the series on Friday in Woodstock. The game is scheduled to start at 7:45 p.m


(Source Sentinel-Review)