Bracebridge Phantoms will face Shield in their first playoff round
MUSKOKA - While the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League’s south division still battles it out in the qualifying rounds, all the north division quarter finals are now set and the two Muskoka-based clubs will start facing off tomorrow night (Feb. 28).
South Muskoka Shield goalie Tanner Swift tosses aside his gloves after leading his team to a 3-0 sweep of the Sturgeon Falls Lumberjacks in GMHL qualifying playoff rounds. The Gravenhurst-based club comes north to Bracebridge Feb. 28 for the start of a best-of-five quarter-final playoff series against the first-year expansion Phantoms.
Photo by Richard Coburn
The Gravenhurst-based South Muskoka Shield swept away Sturgeon Falls three straight in their opening best-of-five qualifier round with a convincing 8-4 home-ice final Feb. 23 to ice their series. The Shield will now look just a bit north to the first-year expansion Bracebridge Phantoms for their next hurdle as GMHL north division quarter-final action picks up at the Bracebridge Memorial Arena Thursday night, starting at 7:30 p.m.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job for an expansion club and kept themselves at the top of the standings all season long,” said Shield head coach and general manager Dallyn Telford of the Phantoms. “They obviously did their homework in the off-season and put all the right pieces in place; it’s a big, physical, experienced club with the ability to score and move the puck up front so we can’t play flat or we simply won’t win.”
After taking game one of the opening qualifying round against the Sturgeon Falls Lumberjacks 6-4 at the Centennial Centre, the Shield played the visitor Feb. 22 in a tight contest that didn’t swing to the Shield’s favour until later in the third period. The two clubs played to a scoreless tie through the first and it wasn’t until about five minutes remained in the second that Shield forward Donny Danroth drew first blood for a short-lived 1-0 advantage. About a minute later the Falls got on the board to bring a one-all game into the third period. There, Andrey Novikov, assisted twice by Danroth, scored back-to-back and with only about two minutes left Michael Gambacorta added the Shield’s third of the period for a 4-1 final and a big 2-0 advantage in the series heading back home.
On Feb. 23, back at the Centennial Centre, the Shield put an end to the series with a big 8-4 victory that saw Washago’s Mat White pace the Shield offensively with two goals and two assists for the game’s first star. The Shield offence was relentless, peppering the Sturgeon Falls netminder with 55 shots, including 21 in the first period alone. It was the Falls that struck first in the first minute of play, and the teams traded goals in the opening frame to bring a 2-2 game into the second. Sturgeon mustered two more in the second to only one by the Shield, so the Gravenhurst club had a comeback to mount in the third where they exploded on five straight, unanswered goals for the 8-4 final.
“That was a good first series to get our feet wet and now the big challenge begins,” Telford said. “I expect it to be a long series (against the Phantoms); we match up well but the big thing about this series I think will be the momentum.”
The Phantoms and Shield split their four games against each other this past regular season, with each team picking up two road wins and dropping their home games.
The GMHL’s north division second-seeded Phantoms have enjoyed a bye-round, waiting for the winner of the Shield’s qualifying round with the first-seeded Temiscaming Titans giving up the option for the bye.
In the other north division qualifying rounds, the Titans swept out seventh-seed Mattawa 3-0 and will now face off against Powassan, which in turn swept Rama in three straight.
The winner of that best-of-five quarter-final round will face the winner of Bracebridge and Gravenhurst in the semi-final rounds to see who gets to move on to the Russell Cup championship.