By John DeCoste
The Valley Maple Leafs are still in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League, but losing both ends of a weekend series with the Eastern Shore Junior Mariners didn’t help their cause.
The Leafs dropped a 3-2 decision Feb. 1 in Berwick, then lost again, this time by a 5-2 score, Feb. 2 at the Eastern Shore Community Centre.
The results left Valley in fourth in the tightly-contested Fred Fox Division, with a record of 14 wins, 10 losses, five shootout losses and two overtime losses for 35 points.
Brookfield led the division at the start of the week with 37 points, with Sackville and Eastern Shore tied for second with 36.
The Maple Leafs have just three regular season games remaining – Feb. 8 in Lantz against the East Hants Penguins, Feb. 15 in Springhill against the Cumberland County Blues and Feb. 16 in Kentville against Brookfield.
All three are winnable, but Valley, needing to leapfrog three teams to finish first, is only partly in control of its own destiny. The Leafs need to not only win, but also have a couple of other teams lose.
Certainly, third place - or even second - are well within reach, providing Valley can win some games, which unfortunately wasn’t the case on the weekend.
On Feb. 1, Valley got off to a solid start, and took an early lead on a Jeff Longaphy power play goal. Jordan Cox replied for Eastern Shore for a 1-1 tie after one period.
After a scoreless second, David Hayes scored on the power play five minutes into the third to give Valley a 2-1 lead.
The lead lasted about two minutes, until Tim Manette’s goal tied the score. The Mariners then got the game-winner off the stick of Dominic Howell on the power play with 4:08 left in regulation time.
Eastern Shore ended up with a 29-22 edge in shots on goal.
On Feb. 2, Valley again took an early lead on an even-strength goal by Jory Uhlman, the only scoring of the first period. The teams then traded goals in the second, with Tyler Somers scoring for the Mariners on the power play and Jake Galbraith’s goal, with 6:35 remaining, giving the Leafs back the lead.
The third period saw four goals scored, and unfortunately for Valley, Eastern Shore netted all of them, the first two on power plays.
Scott MacDonald scored in the opening minute, and Matthew Canning followed with the eventual game-winner at 4:16. Somers scored his second of the game at 13:59, and Manette added his second just 29 seconds later to provide some insurance.
Shots on goal were 29 apiece, with Olafr Schmidt stopping 20 of 24 and Jesse Lawrence four of five for the Maple Leafs.
Speaking before the game, Maple Leafs president Andy Woolaver admitted he has been “really happy” with the team’s inaugural season to date.
“If you had told me before the season we’d be fighting for a playoff spot with three or four games left, I’d have taken it in a minute,” he said.
“I don’t think a lot of these kids would be playing if it weren’t for this team. A lot of them are in school, and have jobs, and if they had to go elsewhere to play and practice, I’m not sure they’d be able to do it. It’s quite a commitment.”
Asked if he felt the Leafs would ice a team next season, Woolaver admitted, “I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t. We’ve made a financial commitment to the league, and it would appear we’ll have a fairly decent core group of players coming back.”
Longaphy, Valley’s assistant captain, is one of several local players on this year’s team.
“They’re a great group of guys, and we seem to mesh together well,” Longaphy, an Acadia student who played Junior B last year in Windsor, said between the first and second periods of Friday’s game. “We have great chemistry, which should serve us well in our push for the playoffs.”
As for whether he has enjoyed the year personally, he replied, “definitely, for the most part. I’d like us to be first, but we’re only two points out, which isn’t bad at all for our first year.”
As for his future, Longaphy confirmed, “I still have two years left if I want to use them. I’m guaranteed next year, and the year after I’ll be an overager.”
Junior teams are able to carry four 20-year-olds.
“I love playing junior, and it’s great to be able to play here at home while I’m going to Acadia,” Longaphy said.
He has also enjoyed being an assistant captain.
“It helps me stay motivated, and I can also help motivate my teammates.”
For a slideshow of photos from the Feb. 1 game, click HERE