Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Niagara League Junior C final an instant classic

Chad Paton has spent 12 years in junior hockey, the first six as a player and the last six behind the bench.

He's been involved in countless playoff games and series, but this year's Niagara League Junior C final between Norwich and Grimsby topped them all.

"I never saw anything like this," he said, less than 24 hours after his Merchants were eliminated following a 4-3 triple overtime loss in Game 6.

Grimsby exacted revenge for last year's defeat and won the best-of-seven championship, 4-2. When Ryan Roberts scored 2:45 into the third overtime Monday night, the Merchants' season was over and the series became an instant classic.

"The guys did everything they could from the drop of the puck," Paton said. "They came up big. As a coaching staff we said we've never been as proud of 22 guys as a coach and player. That's the hardest part is knowing how good they were and how much they respected you and now you move on."

All six games were decided by one goal. The last three games needed overtime. In Game 6, Aaron Wirth scored 18 seconds into the first period to give Norwich an early lead.

Chad Barclay and Bryan Phillips also scored for the Merchants, negating Stevan Manojlovic's goal and taking a 3-1 lead into the second period.

Grimsby chipped away, and goals from Jason McNeil in the second and Lucas Dykstra in the third tied the game.

Norwich had an excellent chance to retake the lead in regulation but couldn't convert five straight power plays, including a pair of brief two-man advantages.

"It was a matter of bounces going either way," Paton said. "Both teams could have won. Their goaltender (Brad Pope) played unbelievable and ours (Matt Coutts) played very well. Six one-goal games."

Taking over for Dave Smith this season, Paton and his staff e Merchants' recent success. Norwich finished second in the regular season and went 12-1 in three division series, knocking off Paris, Woodstock and Simcoe.

Eliminating the Storm in five games was a highlight for the rookie head coach.

"Going into the Simcoe series I think a lot of people expected them to walk all over us," Paton said. "The kids played hard. They came to play and it was nice to beat the team we coached last year."

The Merchants said goodbye to overagers Chad Barclay, Kris Krolouski, Nate Geerlinks and Steven Boyd.

"There's a lot of leadership with those four guys," Paton said.

More will be expected next year from the returning players, which include five or six defencemen and both goalies.

"That's a good way to start," Paton said. "We'll build with a good defence like we did this year."

(Source Sentinel-Review)