At the end of their 24-game regular-season schedules, the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars and Mount Pearl Blades had nearly identical records in wins and losses, as well as goals for and goals against, and power play and penalty kill percentages.
Collectively, Blades and CeeBees players dominated the scoring race.
Still, Mount Pearl co-coach Randy Pearcey says while the numbers indicate the teams are evenly matched, he still sees the Blades as underdogs heading into the best-of-seven Subway Avalon East senior hockey final against the CeeBees, which begins 7:30 tonight at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace.
“Player for player, I think you might give the edge to the CeeBees,” Pearcey told the Telegram.
“They’ve got eight or nine new players from last year and all of them are solid, quality players.”
Pearcey coached the West Coast senior league’s Clarenville Caribous to Herder provincial championship wins over C.B.N. the past two springs. But he says with the return of brothers Keith and Ryan Delaney, along with Sean Wadden, from the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, the addition of former ECHL blueliner Brandon Roach and national university champ Scott Brophy, and the reemergence of veterans Chris Bartlett and Chris Crosbie, “this the best CeeBees team they’ve put together in the past eight or nine years.
“They had a quality team last year, but they weren’t even close to the team they have this year.”
Respect and admiration for their opponents aside, Pearcey and co-coach Andrew McKim’s believe the H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades are up the challenge of facing the six-time defending Avalon East champs.
“We’ve got a fast team and we like to forecheck,” said Pearcey.
“No matter how good you are, if you force the issue. I think guys are prone to coughing up the puck. If we’re there to take advantage of it, we’ll be OK.”
After giving the Northeast Eagles 55 power-play opportunities — 19 in one game alone — in a five-game first round semifinal series, part of the challenge for the Blades, Pearcey concedes, will be playing a disciplined game.
Up to now, he and McKim have tried to curb “stupid penalties” by taking a diplomatic approach with players. But come tonight, they won’t be as lenient, regardless of the cost.
“If a guy is going to get undisciplined penalties in this series, he is not going to play. It’s as simple as that. You cannot let one or two individuals ruin is for your team.” Pearcey asserts.
“If we have to go down to two lines, I’d rather lose with two lines than keep playing guys if they’re going to be undisciplined.”
Not surprisingly, a big part of the CeeBees’ own game plan is to exploit those potential discipline problems.
The CeeBees’ Bartlett, the three-time Herder-winner returned to CBN this season after a two-year hiatus from senior hockey, knows the Blades will have it in their minds to avoid costly trips to the penalty box. However, C.B.N.’s approach in getting them to make mistakes won’t involve a lot of chirping.
“When we played them, what got under their skin was us finishing our checks, getting into the corners, trying to win battles on the boards and throwing our weight around,” says Bartlett of the eight regular-season meetings between the teams.
That series was split evenly, although C.B.N. took four of the last five contests.
“If we stay in their face, playing tough, hard hockey and using our speed to force them to play a little cat and mouse, it would be to our advantage because they might take a few extra penalties,” sad Bartlett.
“We’ve got guys up front who like to hold on to the puck, skate hard and go wide and aren’t afraid to hold for a little bit or do a turn. Teams we played this year probably had no other choice than to clutch and grab.”
At the same time, Bartlett recognizes he and his teammates need “to stay out of the box because they’ve got a fantastic power play.”
There’s more at stake than a trip to the Herder.
Pride is on the line.
Bartlett says even though it’s only been one year, a healthy rivalry already exists between the two clubs.
“There’s a couple of guys (on the Blades) who played for Clarenville when they beat the CeeBees the last two years, and there are a lot of guys around the same age group who might have grown up playing against each other,” he said..
“Also, where Mount Pearl took the first three games from us at the beginning of the season and we had to fight to get first place, that probably added some fuel to the fire.”
On the injury front, the Blades will welcome back forwards Trevor Thorne and Terry Ryan, as well as rearguard Brian Sutherland, who hasn’t played since before Christmas while nursing an undisclosed injury.
The CeeBees meanwhile, will be without power-play quarterback and No. 1 defenceman Mike Dyke. He’s expected to miss the first two or three games of the series, which continues with Game 2 Friday night at the Glacier in Mount Pearl.