There were many moments of jubilation inside the Picton Pirates dressing room Thursday night after the club had vanquished the Amherstview Jets in five games in the 2019 Tod Division Semi-Finals of the Provincial Junior Hockey League playoffs.
Players cheered one another in the usual impromptu victory celebrations.
But perhaps the loudest cheer (at least to this reporter that was within ear shot) went up at the mention of Pirates Head Coach Tyler Green’s name and the fact that the Picton bench boss had just captured his first playoff series win with the club.
Green emerged from the room with a sheepish grin and a game puck in tow but you could tell his mind was already starting to turn about his player’s next opponent even if some of his charges were hooting and hollering in the sweet moments immediately after defeating a hard fought opponent.
Picton’s first playoff series win in five post seasons is in the books after the Pirates outlasted the Jets 6-4 on Thursday night at Huff Estates Arena.
The Game Five win was made possible thanks to some smart play combined with some intestinal fortitude displayed a night earlier at the WJ Henderson Arena in Amherstview where Picton blew a 2-0 in a 1:37 span to open the second period only to get on track and comeback with four goals in a 6-3 Game Four road win.
Picton’s first series win of the 2019 post season was certainly one to savour considering Picton needed a Game Two overtime victory and a 2-1 win in the opener to get ahead and stay ahead of a veteran Jets squad.
“Playoffs are always a new season and even though the regular season saw us have some success against them, we knew it was going to be a grind right from the start,” Green told the Gazette. “Some guys really stepped up and showed a lot of character and we are going to need more of that as the post season wears on.”
The club faced some adversity in round one as Noah Brant picked up a four game suspension for a dangerous hit in the second period of Game Two while veteran defenceman Matthew Scott was felled with an upper body injury in Game Three and the Bloomfield native’s status for the second round remains in question.
But Picton soldiered on and, after Amherstview tried to interject themselves back into the series with a Game Three win, the Pirates were more than equal to the task of eliminating the Jets.
In Game Four on Wednesday evening, Picton opened a 2-0 lead in the first thanks to a powerplay goal by Devin Morrison set up by Landon McClellan and then it was McClellan bulging the twine behind Jets starter Andrew Lumb to make the spread a pair of tallies.
The great road start was erased early in the second thanks to goals by Zack Kish and Wyatt Crampton but Picton managed to rebuild their lead late in the frame.
Morrison again punished the Jets lack of discipline with a powerplay goal at at 17:09 and then Consecon native Matt Poole fired home the eventual game winning mark at 18:37 of the middle frame.
Joey Mayer would get the hosts back to within a goal 3:14 into third but it was Morrison again finding the range with under 10 minutes to play, capping off his hat trick effort with another powerplay marker.
Picton’s Will Harrison made sure there would be no Jets comeback with a goal set up by McLellan at 16:34.
One night later in Picton, the Pirates exploded for four goals in the second and, despite a couple of late goals in the game off the stick of Mayer, the locals were never really in any danger of not closing the series out on home ice.
While there might not have been a definitive back breaker off the stick of a Pirate player, there were plenty of tell tale signs it was Picton’s night all the way.
After Owen Dever scored the game’s opening goal with about five minutes left in the opening frame, Nate Boomhower bagged a goal with just nine seconds left in the first to take a 2-0 lead to the dressing room.
Early in the second, Dever would continue his hot play, slipping a puck past surprise Amherstview Jets starter Jacob Evans and chasing him in favour of Lumb just 2:40 in.
Cole St. Pierre would sweep a puck past Lumb just over two minutes later to make it a 4-0 Picton spread.
Brayden Bertrand would finally solve Picton netminder Kyle Renaud at the halfway point of the contest but the Pirates continued to be gas powered and active in the Jets end.
Morrison would slip past a check and feed Griffen Conger on the doorstep at 11:30 to get the momentum back in Picton’s favour and then McLellan surely had the Jets contemplating the finality of their post season at the 17:48 mark as the lanky 17-year-old centre intercepted a Jets pass and broke in alone on Lumb, slipping a shorthanded effort through the goalie’s legs for a 6-1 lead.
The Jets would eventually cash in on that powerplay prior to the end of the frame but it was a net loss for the visitors as the clock continued to tick away on their playoff hopes.
Tod division coach of the year for 2018-19 Dennis Duchene lifted Lumb early in hopes of a miracle and a pair of goals by Mayer certainly made things somewhat more dramatic than they needed to be for Picton but the Pirates were not going to let lightning strike on this night.
“They were never going to quit so we needed to be on our toes the entire way and we kept grinding the entire series,” Morrison told the Gazette after Game Five.
Picton’s captain was clutch in the pivotal Game Four with a hat trick and added a trio of helpers to pace the Pirates points parade with six in five contests through round one.
The Belleville native took note of the mix of Pirates players with a combination of long-in-the-tooth grizzled veterans like Scott, Troy Eaton and Kurtis Wood and fresh faced youngsters like McLellan, Cooper Rogers and 2019 Tod Division defenceman of the year Derek Vos.
“We are a very close as a team and whether it’s on the ice or off it, we are family and we are always together and that’s really helped,” Morrison said. “It’s been a very interesting year with guys like McLellan and Vos stepping up and taking on huge roles and being successful and then the vets have had great chemistry with them but we don’t worry about the differences too much.”
“At the end of the game, we are big family and we are brothers battling for the same goal,” He added.
The Pirates will take on the Napanee Raiders for the Tod Division title and the opportunity to play in the PJHL Quarterfinals in competition for the Tubby Schmalz Cup provincial championship.
The schedule will likely be announced some time this weekend.