There will be some drama to end the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League’s 2012-13 regular season after all.
As the 24-game schedule wraps up this weekend with three of four playoff spots decided, the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars and the Gander Flyers, two very different teams that have endured similar struggles throughout the season, will play a two-game set to decide the fourth and final post-season berth.
“You’re going to see two talented teams, with young guys full of piss and vinegar on one side,” CeeBees forward Terry Ryan says of the upstart Flyers, “and guys on the other side who are a little more bruised and beaten, but have the experience of being in that position before. It should make for a great matchup.”
C.B.N. (6-15-1) comes in on the heels of a come-from-behind shootout win over Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts last weekend, snapping a 10-game losing streak that began with a loss to the Flyers in December and giving them a crucial one-point lead in the standings.
They need to win just once to clinch a playoff spot, and Ryan admits the CeeBees head into the weekend not taking anything for granted.
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“We could play the Mount Pearl Blades peewees tomorrow and we wouldn’t expect to win, and I mean that in a good way. We’re looking at everything realistically and giving our opponents the major respect that they deserve.
“It’s up to us whether we keep the boat sailing ahead or if we go down in flames,” suggests Ryan. “If we don’t make the playoffs, I’ll be embarrassed.”
Gander (4-15-3), meanwhile, is mired in a 10-game skid of their own stretching back to a Dec. 16 loss to the Western Royals. The Flyers come into the two-game series having lost four straight to the Clarenville Caribous.
Despite it all, Flyers forward Adam Ivany insists they have become a more composed and consistent team on the ice, while also becoming a more tightly knit group in the locker room.
“We are really coming together and trying to just play our game and focus on staying consistent instead of letting all the bad stuff get to us,” says the 25-year-old defenceman.
“We’re on the right track. It’s not like we’re playing poorly or losing it for ourselves. I think we’re on our game and everyone’s excited to get going.”
While both clubs struggled to post wins through the second half of the season, the CeeBees had other burdens to bare in the form of poor attendance and the associated rumours of financial problems threatening the team’s ability to even finish this season, which have only compounded the team’s struggles.
“The level of adversity we’ve faced relative to the other teams in the league is astronomical,” maintains Ryan, adding multiple injuries, lack of player availability due to work commitments, multiple one-goal losses and just plain bad luck to their list of woes.
But Ryan maintains the veteran CeeBees haven’t wavered, and their record isn’t indicative of their effort.
“It’s clearly there. We’re getting the shots and we’re not getting pounded. I think it shows, if nothing else, a potential for immediate improvement and that’s what you want going into the playoffs.”
On the flipside and despite having not won a game in two months, the expansion Flyers have enjoyed unparalleled support from an enthusiastic and appreciative fan base.
Ivany, a Gander native, started the year as one of those fans, joining the team by way of the second draft six games into the season.
“We’ve opened a lot of eyes here as a young team, not really knowing what to expect, so the fact that we’re in a playoff hunt and it all comes down to the last weekend in our first year, from a fan’s perspective it would be a huge bonus.
“But from a player’s perspective, you never want to come up short and we’re so close now, we don’t want our season to end this weekend.”
Head-to-head, the CeeBees have taken three of four games from the Flyers, outscoring Gander 21-16 in the process. The only way the Flyers advance to the post-season will be by scoring two wins, by regulation or via shootout, now that the league has upheld its decision to dock the CeeBees a point for using an unregistered goaltender Freddy Diamond in a shootout loss to the Royals in a January game.
The CeeBees and Flyers kick off their winner-take-all series 7:30 tonight at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace. They meet again Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Whoever advances to the post-season earns a semifinal-round date with the first-place Cataracts, who play host to the Royals for two games at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium in Grand Falls-Windsor. Game times are 7:30 p.m. today and Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock.
Despite the obvious correlation, it wasn’t hockey that brought Adam Ivany back to his hometown of Gander the same year the Airport Town made a return to the province’s senior hockey scene.
Ivany had been working as an air traffic controller at the Fredericton, N.B., International Airport when a job opportunity at the Nav Canada area control centre in Gander opened up.
“It was pure luck that it was the same year the team arrived,” says Ivany, who, after high school spent parts of two seasons with the Maritime junior A circuit’s Yarmouth Mariners (2005-2007) and had an 11-game stint with the 2008-09 Deer Lake Red Wings of the former West Coast Senior Hockey League.
The Flyers — their losing record and the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts’ near perfect 19-2-1 season not withstanding — have been the biggest success story of the year in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, averaging close to 1,100 fans per game at the 1,500-seat Gander Community Centre.
“I remember being there as a fan the first weekend while I was waiting for the next draft and the atmosphere was crazy,” recounts Ivany, one of five Gander natives who have seen regular action with the club this year, joining Ryan Matheson, Tyler Gale, Doug Hardiman and James Keough.
“And it’s like that every game. It doesn’t die down.
“Everybody loves the team and everybody in our room loves being here in Gander.”
“I’m really happy for the town itself. I’m a fan first and a player second, so I’m happy it’s going strong back in Gander and to be a part of it is a bonus for me.”
Ivany is quick to offer thanks to general manager Gary White — coincidentally, also Ivany’s boss with Nav Canada — the fundraising team, and the fans.
“They’re a huge part of it, just as much as the team and they should feel just as much of an accomplishment.”
Ivany admits missing the playoffs would be a disappointment, but says, “you can’t call it a bust because it’s been such a successful year for hockey in Gander.”
Team GP W L SOL PTS
Grand Falls-Windsor 22 19 2 1 39
Clarenville 24 15 7 2 32
Western 22 12 10 0 24
C.B.N. 22 6 15 1 13
Gander 22 4 15 3 11