Lincs take commanding 3-0 series lead - Grant Haven
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Lincs take commanding 3-0 series lead

Lincs take commanding 3-0 series lead

By Spencer Seymour
The St. Marys Lincolns are one win away from advancing to the second round of the Sutherland Cup Playoffs after earning three dominant wins over the Sarnia Legionnaires.
Game one didn’t start as a blow-out with the Legionnaires getting the jump on the Lincolns in the first few minutes, punctuated by Iain MacIsaac opening the scoring for Sarnia last Friday. However, the Lincs quickly bounced back and took the game over, culminating with Maddox Callens tying the game at one apiece with a powerplay one-timer at the 18:41 mark of the first frame.
“Our mantra this year going into the playoffs is ‘execute, execute, execute,’ ” said head coach Jeff Bradley. “We know we have a style of play that works and as long as we trust it when things don’t go our way, we’re asking the players to say that to themselves and it reminds them to keep sticking to the plan. It took us a few shifts to get into the game and we had a bad turnover on their first goal but that’s what we talked about with our mantra. We want to be playing for a long time in the playoffs and it’s not always going to be rosy, but as long as we trust our style, no matter what happens, we’re going to play our style.”
The dominance that began in the first 20 minutes carried over to the second period when the Lincolns outshot the Legionnaires 28-6 and exploded for six goals. Luca Spagnolo had a pair of shorthanded tallies while several high-end talents who had entered the playoffs in the middle of offensive slumps also found the back of the net.
“I thought every guy on our team was really good, but to see guys like Billy (VanSumeren), Noah (VandenBrink), and Chase (MacQueen-Spence) score was great,” Bradley told the Independent. “Those guys have been working so hard and they put a lot of pressure on themselves to put pucks in the net so to see them finally get rewarded was awesome.”
VanSumeren came into the playoffs with one goal in his last 18 games of the regular season while MacQueen-Spence and VandenBrink both scored once in their last nine. Luke Bogart also chipped in a goal in the second frame.
Although he didn’t score, one of the Lincolns’ veteran rearguards stood out to the head coach.
“Josh (Cornfield) was great. He’s had a tough couple of seasons in terms of injuries and illnesses which isn’t a worry but it’s something to think about when the games start, meaning a lot more to the opponent. Josh responded really well to an opponent that was pushing the pace on us. He was one of, if not our best defenceman.”
In the third, VandenBrink potted his second goal of the night on a powerplay, helping the Lincolns’ man advantage go two-for-seven – a significant improvement from the nine goals on 62 powerplays the Lincs accumulated since Feb. 1. According to coach Bradley, the team’s internal competition for powerplay minutes ignited the group’s production.
“Our focus going in was perfecting our style of play and executing that consistently. We’re fortunate that we’ve got a very competitive team and I don’t just mean competitive only against other teams, but they are also competitive with each other. Our powerplay was something we had to address, so we created a third unit. Now, every forward is getting powerplay time and they are competing for powerplay minutes. Competition, especially when you’ve got the depth that we do, brings out the best in people.”
Sarnia is a team known for being incredibly tough to play against, which Bradley felt would give his team a necessary tough, first-round test.
“We wanted to play Sarnia and the reason was not out of any disrespect to them, it was because they work their tails off. They are physical, they have some skill and they really work their guts out. We don’t want to take any time off or get comfortable and with the way they play, Sarnia never lets you get comfortable. Having the privilege of playing that team in their building, it gives our guys an opportunity to get acclimated to playing in hostile territory.”
Brandon Abbott turned away 23 of 24 Sarnia shots to earn the win in the Lincolns’ crease.
Game Two – Lincs win 5-1
Despite controlling the majority of the play, Legionnaires’ netminder Logan Phillips turned in 39 saves in the first 40 minutes of Game Two, keeping the score to 1-1 heading into the third last Saturday. Ethan Weir fired his first goal of the post-season nine minutes and two seconds into the first before Anthony Tudino tied the game with two minutes and 20 seconds left in the opening period.
After just two penalties were called in the first 20 minutes, 20 infractions were assessed in the final two periods. The St. Marys powerplay scored two goals on 11 opportunities.
“It certainly wasn’t our best, but we got them off their game and limited them to just 15 shots,” Bradley said of the overall game. “They wanted to send a message that they were going to fight and play us hard but it kind of cost them at the end. We stuck to our gameplan and tried our best to turn the other cheek and stay focused on our mission and we did a pretty good job of that. You can’t always skate away, but I think we did a good job in that regard.”
Though Bradley didn’t see his team’s showing as flawless, he was pleased with how his squad stuck to their systems and structures even in moments of imperfection.
“It’s a testament to their commitment. Even though at times we stray from the plan a little bit, it shows that the players respect the core tenets of how we play and believe and trust in it. It’s good to know that even when things don’t go perfectly, they’ve built good habits that ensure things don’t go too crazy for us.”
Starting the third on a man advantage, the unit quarterbacked by the elder Cornfield brother appeared shot out of a cannon with the 20-year-old Kitchener native wiring a snapshot from the high slot past Phillips and into the Sarnia net. Cornfield’s first of the playoffs went down as the game-winning goal.
“Our powerplay was so rotten in February, it forced us to put a ton of time and effort into it,” said Bradley. “(In game two), we relied a bit more on the (Josh) Cornfield unit but that’s the nice thing about depth. On any given night, any one of those three units could step up. Puck movement and retrievals have been really good. I don’t think we were stopped on a single breakout. They’re being decisive and getting pucks to the net. All of the areas we were struggling in seem to have been corrected.”
Jaden Lee and Owen Voortman both found their first goals of the playoffs later in the period, the latter being credited by Bradley for his physically imposing style.
“Owen has been such a beast for us. He’s a playoff player. He’s big and he’s got skill and speed. The combination of all that makes him untouchable at times. Part of our plan in the offensive zone is winning battles along the boards and below the goal line and it’s tailor-made for a guy like Owen.”
MacQueen-Spence added a powerplay goal with just over two minutes left in the game, while Abbott once again earned the win in between the pipes for St. Marys.
Game Three – Lincs win 11-0
Chaos erupted on Monday when the series shifted back to the Pyramid Recreation Centre (PRC) for game three, a serendipitous game number as it included three powerplay goals on as many opportunities, three all-time Lincs’ records being set, and the three most-lopsided periods yet in the series.
It took just four minutes and 27 seconds for Weir to begin a luminescent night with the game’s first goal. Later in the first, after Jacob Montesi went to the box on a tripping minor, Sarnia’s powerplay was negated by a five-minute major handed to Jace McGrail after a knee-on-knee collision with Spagnolo that forced Spagnolo to leave the game unable to put weight on his leg. Spagnolo didn’t return and, as of press time, his status for game four is unconfirmed.
Once Montesi was out of the box, the Lincolns had a nonstop powerplay for over three minutes and had a record-setting output. At the 9:32 mark, MacQueen-Spence potted his third of the post-season, followed by Weir’s second of the period just 40 seconds later. According to Scott Holland, a tracker and keeper of GOJHL team records, the pair of goals set a new Lincolns’ record for fastest two goals scored in the playoffs.
Bradley agreed that his team displayed a tremendous killer instinct.
“It was a blood-in-the-water-type thing. At times, they’ve taken some liberties with us, and another one was the knee on Spagnolo, so once that happened, on top of winning the game, we wanted to make sure they regretted making a play like that. They kind of ended the game themselves by giving us the five-minute powerplay.”
The history didn’t stop there, however, as another powerplay goal by Hodkinson just 46 seconds later capped off the fastest three goals in Lincs’ playoff history.
Bradley believed a big factor in the game turning into the biggest blowout of the series so far was the back-breaking toll the three powerplay goals took on the Legionnaires.
“When it comes to winning in the playoffs, it’s not just out-coaching, out-playing, or
out-executing. You need every edge you can get and if you can take a team’s confidence early, they really don’t have a great shot at beating you that game. We knew if we put a couple behind them, considering the suffocating style they were up against, it would take a lot of their hope out of it.”
Before the first period was done, Cohen Bidgood got rewarded for his gruelling net-front work which has earned him plenty of abuse from the Legionnaires’ defenders. The Peterborough product scored his first of the playoffs to give the Lincs a 5-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Weir capped off his hat-trick less than five minutes into the second to make it a six-goal lead for St. Marys. The Kingston Frontenacs’ second-round pick was also a stand-out to the head coach for his detail-oriented effort.
“Ethan had a bit of a cold spell offensively,” Bradley admitted, “but he’s doing the little things right and he’s seeing that if he does those little things right, he’s going to be in positions to get rewarded with more offence. We’re really happy to see him get those goals.”
VanSumeren and Cornfield added goals in the second stanza before MacQueen-Spence, Lee and Hodkinson all found the back of the net in the third, enroute to the third and final record of the night, the largest playoff shut-out in Lincolns’ history, an 11-0 final score.
Hodkinson, according to the bench boss, has elevated his game at the best possible time of the year.
“Ryan has taken his game to another level when it’s mattered most. We’ve played a lot of playoff-style hockey in the last month and a half and he’s become a big-time player. It doesn’t matter what role he’s in, whether he’s on the second line, the fourth line, the powerplay, or the penalty kill, he does it all well and he does it at the same speed and intensity.”
Abbott recorded the shut-out, stopping all 15 shots sent his way. Through three games, the Lincolns have nearly tripled Sarnia in shots, peppering the Legionnaires’ net with 150 shots compared to just 54 directed at Abbott in the Lincs’ net.
Game four takes place Thursday night in Sarnia and a win by the Lincolns would push them to the second round of the post-season with a four-game sweep for the second straight season. If necessary, game five goes Friday in St. Marys, while game six would be back in Sarnia on Saturday and game seven would take place on Tuesday in St. Marys. Half an hour before every playoff game, the Lincolns’ Season Special, a series of five mini-documentaries, airs on St. Marys Radio.

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