The Picton Pirates will head into the first round of the 2023 Provincial Junior Hockey League playoffs battle tested and ready to perform.
The locals managed to navigate a tricky final portion of their 2022-23 campaign, going 6-1-1 over an eight game stretch in 14 days to sew up third place and top seed in the opening round of the 2023 PJHL playdowns. Picton managed to down the visiting Amherstview Jets 5-4 on Tuesday night then managed to tame the visiting Frankford Huskies 4-1 at home on Thursday.
Finally, with the finish line in sight, the Pirates played the host Jets to a 1-1 through 55 minutes only to see the hosts manage a late tally to take the contest 2-1.
Pirates coach Kyle Hawkins-Schulz said he was proud of how the group handled the challenges, obstacles and adversity the club faced through the 2022-23 season.
“I applaud their courage, effort, sacrifice, and dedication with true appreciation to be a part of the development these young men have become on and off the ice,” the coach said. “The last month of the regular season was back end loaded, in addition to prior game cancellations being slotted having 8 games in 14 days surfacing with a 6-1-1 record is a good indication it is a team that loves each other and loves coming to the rink.”
In addition to picking up four crucial points this week to cement an opening round draw that starts at home Thursday night against the Rebels, the club learned this weekend net minder Brady Spry was named the Tod Division Player of the Month for February.
Spry appeared in eight games during the month, starting seven of them and posting a .936 save percentage. If one was looking for reasons behind Picton’s success this season, the goal mouth would be good place to start. Overall, the Pirates allowed just 119 goals this season, trailing only Napanee by just six goals against.
“The performance of Spry and Ethan Beattie this season has been remarkable. We rely on them nightly to provide opportunities to win games and I must tip my cap that they delivered every time,” Hawkins-Schulz said. “Knowing what we are going to get has allowed us to play with a high level of confidence. The February Player of the Month recognition for Spry is well deserved in addition to his excellent season overall.”
The week started with Spry picking up his 15th win of the season over the Jets in a 4-3 overtime thriller on Tuesday.
Trailing 3-2 after the second, the Pirates managed to push back and pot a pair of goals to move in front of the visitors.
Captain Landon McLellan found Ian Harrison in the slot and the Picton native beat Amherstview starter Alex Chu at 6:27 of the third.
Just over three minutes later, Picton got their first lead of the game when Cole Stevenson beat his opposition on a offensive zone face off and teed up rookie Liam Philip for his seventh of the season.
Picton seemed to be cruising until Matt Donovan’s seeing eye shot through traffic caught a piece of the cross bar behind Spry and tumbled into the Picton net with less than two minutes left to make it 4-4.
The extra period didn’t let long and it was McLellan leading the charge up the ice and setting up Nate Woods who banged in his third of the year of a rebound just 53 seconds into the extra frame.The Pirates also got goals from Gerrit Kempers and Jack Dow in the win.
On Thursday, the Pirates were up 2-0 after two thanks to goals from Woods and McLellan and managed to boat two points in a 4-1 win.
After Jakob Gardner scored on the power play in the opening minute of the third, Picton salted the game away with a Dow goal set up by Kempers at 5:43.
Picton would hold steady and in the final minute, Philip would fire home his 8th into an empty net.
Dow and Kempers would pick up their second points of the period on the scoring play.
On Sunday in Amherstview, the teams combined for a thrilling game that the hosts managed to eek out in the final moments.
Beattie drew the starting assignment for Picton and was sensational, making 32 saves.
While the Jets notched an early lead off a Eric Russell tally midway through the first, Picton battled back with a goal in the second and it was Kempers potting his 12th of the season with thanks to Cole Lavender and Philip.
The County Kings grad has been red hot as of late and after registering just one point in his first 13 PJHL contests as a full Pirate, Kempers fired home a dozen goals and 18 assists over his final 20 games of the regular season, drawing serious rookie of the year consideration from the General Managers in the Tod Division.
With overtime looming again, the Jets and Donovan would convert with less than two minutes left to push ahead to a 2-1 lead. Picton would out shoot the hosts in the final frame but Chu denied the Pirates an equalizer late.
The locals will rip the lid off the 2023 Schmalz Cup play offs on Thursday against Campbellford. Game 2 of the opening round will be played in Campbellford on Saturday with Game 3 back in Picton on Sunday night.
“We will be looking to carry the momentum we gained in the last month of the regular season into the series,” Hawkins-Schulz said. “We are excited for playoff hockey and the difficult journey ahead of us.”