Sports

JUNIOR HOCKEY

The Norwich Merchants were swept by the Ayr Centennials in the Midwestern Junior Hockey League finals​

By Greg Colgan, Sentinel-Review

The Norwich Merchants and Ayr Centennials shake hands after the Centennials won the Midwestern Junior Hockey League finals in Game 4 in Norwich Tuesday March 10, 2015. The Centennials swept their series and went undefeated in all 12 of their playoff games and will head to the Schmalz Cup as the MHL representative. (GREG COLGAN, Sentinel-Review)

The Norwich Merchants and Ayr Centennials shake hands after the Centennials won the Midwestern Junior Hockey League finals in Game 4 in Norwich Tuesday March 10, 2015. The Centennials swept their series and went undefeated in all 12 of their playoff games and will head to the Schmalz Cup as the MHL representative. (GREG COLGAN, Sentinel-Review)

In the end, the Ayr Centennials had too much firepower, too much depth, too much skill and too much talent.

Really, too much of everything.

Every other team that’s come up against them in the playoffs and regular season have found out. And by the Midwestern Junior Hockey League finals, the Norwich Merchants did too.

The Centennials won 8-1 in Game 4 of the league finals en route to a sweep of the Merchants, Ayr’s third straight series victory, and their 12th consecutive playoff win as they clinched a spot as the MHL representative in the Schmalz Cup.

“Our guys really wanted to come back this year and make another run at it,” Ayr head coach Cody Hall said. “They weren’t happy with how it ended last year (losing in the league finals in six games) and that’s easy motivation. They did well and we’re on a good run and hope to keep it going.”

While the Merchants were able to keep some games close, Ayr’s depth, like it has been all playoffs, was the unavoidable dilemma.

If you stop one line, or even the second, the Centennials could count on their third or fourth to notch a few goals as they came wave after wave at opposing defences.

“There’s so much depth over there with older kids and they’re a polished club. They do a good job and we couldn’t match what they did,” Merchants head coach Dave Smith said. “Hats off to them, they were the better club. Nothing to be ashamed of in our end.”

While goaltending and defence can win playoff series, being able to look down your bench and know you can throw any guy on the ice helps.

“We’ve got four lines that can score, four lines that can play defence and three or four guys that are healthy scratches that could fit anywhere,” Hall said. “It’s tough for the coaches to decide who’s in the lineup. It’s ultimately a team win and it takes every guy to get here.”

Ayr opened the scoring early with a pair of goals from Quinn Diamond in the first three minutes. Carver Ormiston made it 3-0 with less than three minutes in the first, while Jeff Howlett gave Ayr a 4-0 lead four minutes into the second. Merchants defenceman Jesse Szabo cut the lead to three with a power play goal at the midway mark.

Eric Hackborn, Riley Clipper, Austin Kovrig and Jackson White helped the Centennials pile it on and secure the win for Ayr.

Though Norwich was eliminated, few people would’ve expected them to have even sniffed the finals. Earlier in the year they were stuck in eighth place before adding key pieces, improved defence and slightly more veteran presence had them turn their season around.

The two series’ wins have given a young core, one that could stick around for more than a couple years and be the possible nucleus of future Merchants success, were handed invaluable experience during the playoff run.

“They’ll grow from this. That’s what I told them, we’d grow from this. Don’t take it as a loss, take it as a learning experience. Most of our guys will be coming back. We’ll have holes to fill, but they’ll go out and look for more,” Smith said. “It’s been a long road and that’s what makes them strong. They’ll be better for it next year. I’m not sad. I’m happy and proud of what they did. I’m glad I came back. I really am. This has been a rewarding experience for me.”

Though the loss will sting for the next few days, Smith said there shouldn’t be any shame in Norwich’s dressing room.

“I want to congratulate Ayr. They were the better team and we gave them a run at a couple of games. It would’ve been nice to take them down, but that’s a good hockey team over there,” Smith said. “My kids played with a lot of heart and went farther than seven other teams. We did as good as we could and I’m proud of the kids.”

For now though, Ayr reigns supreme over the MHL and will return for their second trip to the Junior C provincials in three years.

“With a lot guys coming back, they really wanted it and it showed in the playoffs,” Hall said of how the team played in all three playoff rounds. “It’s a championship. You start back in the summer with a goal and we’re not done yet.”

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GAME GLANCE

Ayr Centennials 8, Norwich Merchants 1

Norwich goals: Jesse Szabo

Ayr goals: Quinn Diamond (2), Carver Ormiston, Jeff Howlett, Eric Hackborn, Riley Clipper, Austin Kovrig and Jackson White

 

twitter.com/GregatWSR

greg.colgan@sunmedia.ca


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