STEPHENVILLE If you ask Grant Vincent, the stellar play of goaltender Scott Walsh was the main factor in the two victories his Port aux Basques Mariners recorded over the Stephenville Junior Jets last weekend at the Bruce II Sports Centre.
Of course, Vincent’s six goals probably had a little something to do with it too.
The Mariners beat the Jets 4-2 in Game 1 of the Central/West Junior Hockey League best-of-five semifinal series, then downed them 8-6 in Game 2. Vincent recorded two goals in the first game, before doubling his efforts with four the next day.
“Pretty much being in the right spot at the right time,” he said of his four-goal performance. “Three of them were actually deflections in front of the net on power plays.”
But, according to Vincent, Walsh putting up a wall was the real key. The goaltender was back and forth with the Western Royals of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League for most of the year, so he has only played a handful of games for the Mariners, but has been a veritable difference-maker when available.
“Now that we have him for the playoffs, he’s holding it together pretty good,” said Vincent.
The opening two games were tight — the current Jets aren’t the same team that stumbled through the majority of the regular season. They were missing a few vital players for much of the year, but expected to be able to ice their full lineup come playoff time.
“They were a lot better games than what they’ve been throughout the season,” Vincent said of the opening two games of the series. “They’ve always had good goaltending and they’ve always had Josh White, who is probably the best player in the league, but now they have more support for him so the team is a lot more balanced.”
Winning both games on home ice was vital for the Mariners, so they wouldn’t hit the road this weekend potentially facing elimination in hostile territory. Instead it’s the Jets staring down the barrel of the gun.
Vincent figures there’s not much sense in messing around with what worked at home, so the Mariners should employ pretty much the same strategy this weekend.
“Stay out of the penalty box and get lots of shots on net,” he said, noting the Jets will likely be playing desperate hockey. “I don’t think they want their season to end yet, so they’ll be coming ready to play.”
The last thing the Mariners want to do is give the Jets any life, so they’ll be going for the jugular as soon as the puck drops on Game 3.
“We want to finish it in one game,” Vincent said.
Which is, obviously, exactly what the Jets don’t want to happen.
“I think we’re going to come out with a lot more motivation with our backs against the wall,” said Jets goalie Cody Blanchard. “We definitely don’t want to get swept, especially at home, so I expect the team to respond pretty well.”
It’s not like there weren’t any positives to be garnered from the first two games, despite the end results, Blanchard argued. If the team played the third period as well as the first 40 minutes, he said, they probably wouldn’t be in their current predicament.
“That’s something we need to work on,” he said. “In the first two periods there was a lot of times where we controlled the play, we moved the puck real well, we made smart plays ... come the third period, in both games, it was a different story. We made a lot of bad decisions and the puck ended up in our net.”
Shutting down Vincent and the rest of the Mariners’ top line will be the priority for the Jets and, likely, the only path to their survival.
“All their offence is coming from the same two or three guys and we’re really letting them skate all around us,” Blanchard said. “We’ve got to hit them hard, separate the man from the puck and control those guys.”
The Jets just have to win that first one. If they can do that, Blanchard believes the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve got a monkey on our back where we just can’t seem to pull out a win, but if we could win (Saturday night), it’d be huge for the team for confidence,” he said. “We’ve got a good enough team to beat them, but it’s almost like right now some of the guys in our room don’t believe it and the other half do.
“That’s been our downfall.”
The Jets host the Mariners for Game 3 of the semifinal series 8 p.m. Saturday night at the Stephenville Dome, with Game 4, if necessary, going 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.