The Paris Mounties know they will have to come to play in each and every game if they hope to eliminate the Norwich Merchants from the Niagara and District Junior Hockey League playoffs.
So far, so good.
The Mounties earned a split in the first two games of the best-of-seven West Division semifinal.
“We are a young team, but we have lots of heart and really work hard,” Paris forward Mitch Atkins said. “We know we can win this because we are still improving. We are getting better in every game.”
The Merchants finished second in the NDJHL regular season – 20 points ahead of the third place Mounties – and won the season series against Paris 4-2. They are very much the same team that knocked the Mounties out of the playoffs last season.
“They are a very tough team and we have to come to play every game,” assistant captain Ian Fowler said. “We’ve got a few guys who played in the series with them last year, so we knew how physical it would be and prepared everyone for that.”
Both games in this season’s playoff series have been settled by a single goal.
Goaltender Zach Shompe stopped 32 of 35 shots on Friday in Norwich as the Mounties lost 3-2.
Fellow goaltender Andrew Masters had to stand on his head on Saturday at the Brant Sports Complex to preserve a 2-1 Mounties victory.
Masters stopped 57 of 58 shots in the game – almost a shot per minute.
“They really had a lot of shots against us on Saturday,” Mounties coach Erich MacKinnon said. “But, for the most part, they were all from outside the danger area. We know we have good goaltending, so we’ll take the shots from the outside as long as we keep cleaning up the rebounds.”
MacKinnon said the Mounties have to focus on generating more shots on goal when the series resumes on Friday in Norwich.
“Sometimes players may feel they are throwing the puck away if they take a shot from the outside,” MacKinnon said. “But that’s not always the case. Jimmy (Spielvogel’s) goal on Saturday was a wrist shot from 35 or 40 feet out.”
The Mounties have been outshot 93-51 through the two games.
“(The Merchants) have a very strong defensive core,” Atkins said. “We have to start getting the puck in their end more, taking it to the outside and getting pucks to the net. We also need to generate more traffic in front. It’s hard to stop the puck if you can’t see it coming.”
MacKinnon said the Mounties won’t be intimidated by the Merchants’ physical play as the series continues.
“We have to play physical and finish our checks, but not try to be the bigger team when we’re not,” he said. “We have to stick to our game. But no one is shying away from the hits or being intimidated.”
Following Game 3 in Norwich on Friday, the series shifts back to the Brant Sports Complex for a Sunday night game that begins at 7:30 p.m. Game 5 is in Norwich on Wednesday night.