There’s a sense of pride and fulfilment when a team that finished in the cellar every year earns a playoff berth for the first time.
Nathan Ellsworth and Brady Griffin-Hefford of Corner Brook couldn’t be any prouder.
Ellsworth and Griffin-Hefford are heading to the post-season with the St. Stephen Aces of the Maritime Hockey League. The Aces joined the Junior A hockey setup three years ago, but the team never came close to a playoff spot.
Ellsworth, a Rocky Harbour native, has been with the Aces since the first day of training camp, so he’s seen how the team has struggled and been on the receiving end of some lopsided losses.
The Aces clinched a playoff berth on Sunday when the Summerside Capitals defeated the Woodstock Slammers in the final game of the regular season. The Aces won back-to-back games over the weekend to put them in a position for a playoff berth, so a helping hand from the Capitals was surely welcomed.
“The first couple of years has been a struggle, but I stuck with it and it’s an amazing experience to make the playoffs,” Ellsworth said Tuesday from St. Stephen as he wrestled with a head cold.
Ellsworth no longer focuses on the tough ride. He’s happy he could help the team achieve a goal that was foremost on the minds of the team since the season started.
He’s happy to get the job done because he knows everybody worked hard all year and he believes the fans deserved some reward for their support and patience over the past three seasons.
The two former Western Kings watched Sunday’s game unfold with all of their teammates, coaches and a bunch of fans glued to the television set at a local restaurant in St. Stephen.
Griffin-Hefford said the team had a small celebration once they knew they were in the playoffs, but now the focus has shifted to creating some noise in the first round, with a date with the Miramichi Timberwolves in a best-of-seven semifinal series that starts Saturday night on the road.
“It was a lot of hard work all year. It came down to the wire,” he said. “All the workouts, all the practices definitely paid off in the end.”
The Aces scratched and clawed for every point they could muster after a slow start to the second half, but Griffin-Hefford showed his leadership ability by turning it up a notch and collecting 10 goals and seven assists in just eight games in February.
He credits his linemates, Adam Crowe and Casey Fox, for being able to find some chemistry when it counted the most.