Navy Vets lose controversial series with Firebirds

The Provincial Junior Hockey League denied a Woodstock protest last week setting the stage for Friday night’s 5-2 New Hamburg win and a Doherty Division title.

The Firebirds came out of the gate flying, outshooting the Navy Vets 22-8, and outscoring them 4-1 in the first period. Owen Sculthorp opened the scoring for New Hamburg just over four minutes into the game, but Ethan Szabo tied it up six and a half minutes later. Then the Owens took over with Owen Bruder scoring once and Owen Fischer adding a pair.

After a scoreless second the teams traded third-period markers with Szabo scoring his ninth of the playoffs for the Navy Vets. Jake Thompson added an empty-net goal for the Firebirds who now turn their attention to the Grimsby Peach Kings, winners of the Bloomfield Division, in the Southern Conference final of the postseason.

Game four in the Doherty final ended in controversy as the Navy Vets appeared to score twice in double overtime that would have made the series 3-2 in favour of New Hamburg. The first was waved off as Firebirds goalie Graeme Noye, who played in Woodstock last season, knocked the net off its moorings. The video of the second goal shows the puck hitting the top of the mesh but was not seen by any of the four officials on the ice. The team did file an official protest with the league, but the PJHL has nothing in their rules that could admit video evidence to change a call on the ice.

Navy Vets coach Darren Young wouldn’t take anything away from the Firebirds but added a game four win would have made it a completely different series. “They’re a great hockey team. At the end of the day, they still won three games whether we want to talk about the fourth or not. They have a chance to win the whole thing in my opinion. There is that feeling of being slighted a bit. It was tough on our guys to really get back into it. It’s going two-two or three-to-one. That’s a big difference.” He added he isn’t going to blame the referees as they do miss calls. “There’s no point in dwelling on it. We can’t change it.”

The Navy Vets completed the regular season with a 31-8-3-0 record, good for second place in the Doherty Division. Young said despite the disappointing end to the season he is taking away plenty of positives. “Just looking at the regular season record, and I think it’s the first time we’ve been in the division final since 1997. Obviously, that’s a big accomplishment and a step forward for our group.” Among the individual honours for the team was Davin Gray won the division scoring title with 16 goals and 47 assists for 63 points, and Tyler Bouck who statistically was the top goalie with a 2.45 goals against average, 19 wins, 5 shutouts (a team record), and a .927 save percentage. Ethan Szabo also led the division in playoff scoring with 9 goals and 10 assists in 15 games.

Woodstock could have a very solid returning lineup as just three players are ineligible due to age. The top three scorers, Gray, Szabo, and Nolan Brett could all be back in a Navy Vets uniform in the fall.

The team has one of the best facilities in the PJHL at Southside Arena and one of the highest attendance numbers. Young said the support from the community has been incredible. “It’s huge. It’s a great feature to attract players and it helps the in-game atmosphere. The player’s performance is a big part of that. The further you go and the better the team the more support we’re going to get.” He added the organization, behind the scenes, does a great job of running social media and with game day operations. “It’s a great atmosphere for people to go to on Friday night. It’s entertaining, fun, and the hockey’s good.”

Young, a Woodstock native, spent three seasons with the GOJHL’s St. Marys Lincolns before heading to Huntsville in the OJHL and then Niagara Falls back in the GOJHL. He completed his hockey career at two Division III schools in New York, Morrisville, and Buffalo State.

Trojans take on Canadiens in West final

Thamesford and Lakeshore start their battle for West Division supremacy tonight (Thursday) in Belle River. The Canadiens won the coin toss and as a result, earned home-ice advantage for the series. On its way to the final Lakeshore has allowed just 20 goals against in 15 playoff games. During the regular season they finished with a record of 37 wins against just 5 losses and allowed only 70 goals in 42 games.

Thamesford disposed of Mt. Brydges in five games to earn their way to the West final.

Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette