Maybe it was the four-goal pasting in Game 3 that did it, or the realization that they were in deep trouble against a surging team, winners of seven straight games and steamrolling towards an eighth.
Whatever it was, the Clarenville Caribous knew they had to come up with a plan — pronto — to spike the tires on the rolling Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts in the Herder Memorial Trophy final, which Clarenville trailed 3-0.
And it started with figuring out a way to shut down the Cataracts’ high-scoring trio of Rob Hennigar, Cam Fergus and Andrew Brennan.
In Game 3 of the series last Friday night, the first one back in Clarenville after Grand Falls-Windsor jumped out to a quick 2-0 series lead at home, the trio dismantled the Caribous as Fergus, who finished second in league scoring during the regular season, had two goals and two assists. Hennigar, who won the Newfoundland Labrador Senior Hockey League’s scoring title, had three assists and the speedy Brennan chipped in with a goal and a helper in a 6-2 win.
“We put our heads together to figure out what we had to do,” said Clarenville captain Dustin Russell.
It was decided the first order of business was to try and stop the Hennigar line. Enter Russell, Brad Crann and Mitch Oake and, voila, the Caribous were on to something.
Thanks to some tenacious checking by those three, Hennigar, Fergus and Brennan were limited to a combined three points over the next two games as the Caribous managed to claw their way back into the Herder final with a pair of 5-2 wins last Saturday and Sunday.
The series shifts back to Grand Falls-Windsor tonight and, if necessary, Sunday afternoon.
“This is new to us,” Russell said, “to designate players to a specific line, in this case a checking line.
“But it came out of necessity.”
It’s not like the three are typical defensive specialists, whose scoring chances are few and far between.
Oake netted 18 points in 24 games this season. Russell, the Clarenville veteran, had 11 and Crann registered 10 points.
“But this is the Herder final, so you’re willing to do whatever is necessary to help your team win, particularly when you’re down 3-0,” Russell said.
“We were excited with the challenge, but we knew — and still know — we have our work cut out for us because that’s the best offensive line in the province,” he said of the Cataracts’ trio.
Defensive play is so much more broken down and dissected today, perhaps because there’s so much more emphasis placed on that aspect of the game.
As they say, offence wins games, but it’s defence that wins championships.
For the Caribous’ shutdown line, Russell said the key to the recent success comes down to a simple word — commitment.
“We’re all on board, all on the same page,” he said. “You know, you can draw up all the X’s and O’s you want, the bottom line is it will come down to who wants it more. Who is willing to do the dirty work and sacrifice their body.”
But there’s one problem as the series shifts to central Newfoundland. The Cataracts will have home ice at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, meaning Grand Falls-Windsor has last change.
And you can bet Cats’ coach Shane Lukinchuk will be getting imports Hennigar and Fergus and Brennan away from the Caribous’ checkers.
“Yes, that could very well mean we’re not getting the matchup we want,” Russell said, “and that’s another challenge we’ll have to face.
“But other lines will have to step up. We will need more of a team effort.”
Regardless, Clarenville heads to central in a much better frame of mind than they found themselves in after Friday’s loss to go down 3-0 in the series.
Not that Russell will ever admit as much.
“It was good to get back in,” he said, “although I never felt out of it.
“And I’m anxious to get out and play Game 6.”
And help keep the puck out of his goal.