There might only be a few games remaining in the provincial senior hockey season, but it already feels like a whole new year for the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars.
Following a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Clarenville Caribous in Game 1 of the Telegram Herder Memorial Trophy Championship Series Saturday night, the CeeBees came back even stronger, trouncing the Herd 5-1 in Game 2 Sunday at the Clarenville Events Centre.
“The guys are playing for each other and there’s a different vibe in the room,” says assistant coach Peter George.
“Nothing’s done yet, but it’s good feeling, for sure.”
The best-of-seven series shifts back to S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, Game 5, next weekend.
“(It) is going to be very interesting for Clarenville to come into our rink,” says CeeBees goalie Mark Yetman.
“It’s going to be loud and hostile and it’s going to be fun.”
Yetman was easily the CeeBees’ standout performer Sunday, stopping 34 of 35 shots to preserve the win for the visitors.
“He made some great saves, not outstanding saves, but key saves at key times that good goalies make without looking big,” says Caribous coach Ivan Hapgood.
Jason Churchill, meanwhile, stopped 34 of 39 shots.
CeeBees with big five-on-five advantage
The normally offensively potent Caribous struggled in the opening weekend, registering just four goals — all of them on the power play. On the flipside, C.B.N. had four man-advantage-markers while also netting five at even strength, where they clearly had an edge over Clarenville.
“We got nothing going offensively and we were sloppy in our own end,” says Dale Sullivan, one of four Caribous in the top 10 in league scoring in the regular season.
“We didn’t have any sustained pressure for any amount of time, like we’ve been used to doing all year.
“We go at teams offensively and hem them in their zone .but we weren’t able to do that this weekend. We know we’re better than that and that’s the one positive we can take away from it to give us a chance next weekend.”
C.B.N., meanwhile, came to Clarenville with a strict defence-first system designed to counter the ‘Bous firepower up front. It meant Clarenville had difficulty getting out of its own zone and forced a number of turnovers, notably in the second period of Game 2, when the CeeBees scored twice on 19 shots.
“We’re pretty relentless when we stick to our system,” George says.
“We don’t really trap, but we recognize what they’re doing and we have a good plan for that style of hockey.”
Despite the first two games being played in Clarenville, the 300-plus CeeBees fans at the CEC outdid their Caribous counterparts with their noise level and intensity.
That’s something that wasn’t lost on the CeeBees.
“We really fed off that,” says George. “We made sure the boys gave a little salute to our fans because they were explosive.”
Hapgood can understand the Clarenville faithful’s lack of fervour.
“We have to accept the blame for that as a team. It’s up to us to motivate the fans and we never gave them a reason this weekend.
“They’re only a man advantage, as they say, when you give them a reason.”
The Caribous are in unfamiliar Herder territory. In three previous appearances in the provincial final, the team has only lost two games - Game 1 to the CeeBees in 2010 and last year’s series opener against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts.
“We didn’t want to go down 2-0, we certainly don’t want to go down 3-0,” says Hapgood.
“We’ve got to go to Harbour Grace and we’ve got to get two wins out of it, whichever two games that is, I don’t care.”
Chris Sparkes led the CeeBees’ attack with two goals Sunday. Colin Feehan, Chris Hulit and Robert Slaney added single tallies. Mike Dyke and Ray Dalton had two assists.
Blake Gallagher netted the lone ‘Bous marker.