Caribous ready to shake off the rust

Brendan McCarthy
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The Mount Pearl Blades’ Paul Roebothan (front) skates for a loose puck under pressure from the Clarenville Caribous’ Ryan Delaney during an NLSHL regular season contest. The teams’ best-of-seven semifinal starts tonight at the Glacier in Mount Pearl with Game 2 set for Sunday evening at the Clarenville Events Centre.

After 20-day layoff, Clarenville set for NLSHL semifinal series vs. Mount Pearl

When you have some rust, one option is to grind it out.    
And that’s just what the Clarenville Caribous might be doing as they start their Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL) semifinal tonight against the Mount H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades at The Glacier in Mount Pearl.

It’s been nearly three weeks since the Caribous played a game. They finished their regular-season schedule Feb. 9 and as a result of having the best record in the NLSHL’s East Division, earned a bye through the first round of the playoffs.

Now, they’ll get back into the swing of things — or at least work on getting back in the swing of things — as they take on the Blades, who swept the defending champion CeeBee Stars in a best-of-five divisional semifinal.

The Caribous hold home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series with the Blades, but because the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games are being held today at the Clarenville Events Centre, things will kick off at the Glacier (8 p.m. start).

“It’s a little bit of concern, but like anything, it becomes an issue if you let it be one,” said Clarenville captain Dustin Russell about the team’s inactivity.

And given the Caribous’ 20-day layoff, he believes they might benefit from the unorthodox scheduling.

“I think with the break, it’s actually a good thing,” Russell said about having Game 1 on the road. “A lot of times when you start at home, there’s an extra bit of pressure to keep your home-ice advantage and you might be trying to put on a show so that your fans are entertained.

“But opening up away from home means we can play a more simple road game. It might work to our advantage if we play it right.”

Russell said the first-round bye also didn’t hurt health-wise — “A few guys benefited, although we were mostly healthy to begin with,” he noted — and that the Caribous held three “pretty good” practices over the last week or so.

“Obviously, it’s not the same intensity or workload that you would get in a game, particularly a playoff game, so in that regard, it will be a little bit difficult,” said Russell about moving from the pace of practice to the gallop required in a game

“But at the same time, this being the playoffs, I think everyone won’t take as long to get up to speed.

“You can’t afford not to.”

The Caribous and Blades met six times in the regular season, with Clarenville winning four times, including twice at the Glacier.

Game 2 of the series will be played 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Clarenville Events Centre, with the series assuming the same Saturday-in-Mount Pearl and Sunday-in-Clarenville stance for Games 3 and 4 next weekend. That’s because the closing ceremonies of the provincial Winter Games are being held Saturday, March 8 at the CEC.

The NLSHL’s West Division final between the Western Royals and Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts also begins this weekend with a more-normal schedule as the Cataracts, who finished first overall in the league standings, host Games 1 and 2.

The Royals-Cats series begins 7:30 p.m. tonight at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium in Grand Falls and continues there at 2 p.m. Sunday. The teams will move to the Royals’ home rink, Hodder Memorial Complex in Deer Lake, for Games 3 and 4 next weekend.

The Cats also had a first-round bye, waiting as the Royals swept the Gander Flyers in the West Division semifinal.

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Divisional award winners released

The Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL) won’t announce the 2013-2014 winners of most the league’s overall individual awards until the Herder championship series later this month, but we have a good idea of the finalists as the league has announced its divisional awards.

According to a release issued on the league website (nlshl.ca), after reviewing nominations for awards not based on statistics, the league decided to assign them on divisional basis to highlight success and accomplishment in each of the East and West divisions.

Determination of the final awards will be made by HNL as part of the completion of the Herder final.

Of course, the overall league winners of stats-based awards are already known; Rob Hennigar of the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts finished as the top scorer in the regular season, while the Cataracts’ A.J. Whiffen posted the lowest goals-against average among netminders.

DIVISIONAL AWARD WINNERS

Most valuable player

East —  Ryan Mior, Blades

West —  Rob Hennigar,  Cataracts

Rookie of the year

East —  Kenny Mahoney, Caribous

West — Kyle McGuirk, Cataracts

Most gentlemanly player

East — Jordon Escott, CeeBee Stars

West — Justin Barbour, Royals

Top defenceman

East — Martin Lapointe, Caribous

West— Rodi Short, Cataracts

Coach of the year

East — Brian Cranford, Blades

West — Shane Lukinchuck, Cataracts

Top scorer

East — Ryan Desrosiers, Caribous

(23 GP, 17G, 20A)

West — Rob Hennigar, Cataracts

(24 GP, 11G, 37A)

Top goalie

East — Jason Churchill, Caribous

(16 GP, 3.27 GAA 3.27, .899 SV%)

West — A.J. Whiffen, Cataracts

(23 GP, 2.70 GAA, .917 SV%)

Herder teams will be able to choose venue again this year

The venues for games in the 2014 Telegram Herder Memorial Championship Series will once again be decided by the participating teams, not Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL)

In most recent years, the provincial senior hockey finals was played out in the province’s largest arenas, Mile One Centre in St. John’s and the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook. However, the teams competing in the 2013 Herder final, the C.B.N. CeeBee Stars and the Clarenville Caribous, opted to play their home games out of their own rinks — S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium and the Clarenville Events Centre.

Teams will have the same option this year, says HNL senior chairman Gary Gale.

Attendance for Herder games has dipped recently and Gale says, a couple of years ago  teams expressed displeasure about being forced to use the larger facilities after the Herder final between the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and Caribous failed to draw a huge crowd at the Pepsi Centre, which is a 270 kilometres from Grand Falls and 500 km from Clarenville.

However, Gale acknowledged regular-season attendance at all Newfoundland Senior Hockey League venues has gone down this season,

“We need to get a better understanding, I suppose, of what’s going on here,” he said.

Gale has been talking to officials with the four remaining playoff teams to get a sense of what they want to do should they advance to the Herder final. Based on those conversations, it’s his understanding the Cataracts and Caribous would choose to play in their own buildings, while the Mount Pearl Blades would opt for Mile One instead of the Mount Pearl Glacier.

As of Thursday, Gale was waiting to hear from the Deer Lake-based Western Royals, but he still expects plans for the Herder should be finalized soon.

Organizations: NLSHL, Clarenville Events Centre, Newfoundland Senior Hockey League Glacier.Game 2 West Division Pepsi Centre Telegram Herder Memorial Championship Series

Geographic location: Clarenville, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador Grand Falls Deer Lake Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium Corner Brook

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