The Gander Flyers are in complete control of its Central Newfoundland Hockey League semifinal series against the Twillingate Combines.
The Flyers, who finished on top of the league standings with an 8-3 record, defeated the Combines, who finished last with a 4-7 record, in game one of the series 4-1 Saturday evening at the Gander Community Centre, and followed that up with a 7-2 win the following day to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five match-up.
Doug Hardiman led the way for the Flyers in the weekend set with two goals and three assists, while Matt Strickland collected three goals and an assist. Marcus Adams scored twice and added a lone helper for three points, while captain Scott Young and Brad Walker recorded two points each.
Goaltender Ryan Bradbury made 38 saves in two games to pick up the two victories, while 12 Flyers recorded at least one point in the two games played.
The Flyers are now just a win away from advancing to the CNHL final against either the Straight Shore Beothics or Lewisporte Seahawks, whose best-of-five series is tied 1-1.
Defenceman James Keough, who scored once in Sunday's 7-2 win, said the Flyers came out of the gate a little slow in Saturday evening's game, but not on Sunday, where the team scored five of its seven goals in the first two periods.
"We came out slow on Saturday, but that's just like us. It takes a while for us to get our feet going, and to get our passing going," said Keough. "We knew we had to keep battling and to keep going, and eventually the bounces would start going our way."
The Flyers and Combines, who won the league title the past two seasons, were deadlocked 1-1 heading into the third period of Saturday's game.
The final 15 minutes saw the Flyers score three times on 17 shots to pull away with the hard-fought victory.
Keough said the team never changed its gameplan or swayed away from its strategy after two periods, but the players felt like it was gut-check time.
"There weren't any major changes, but we did feel like it was gut-check time and everyone knew they had to dig a little deeper," said the defenceman. "We had to push ourselves and push each other to make it happen."
Although the Flyers are close to competing in the championship series for the second time in three years, taking the Combines lightly will be a huge mistake. The Flyers lost to the Combines in the final two years ago, and the Combines defeated the Beothics in last year's league finale, so the Twillingate squad is definitely capable of making a comeback.
The Flyers have been dominant this season, which Keough knows has to continue in game three.
"I didn't follow the league much last year, so I really didn't know what was one the go," said Keough. "All I know is we have a good squad, and it didn't surprise me that we finished first in the league. We have wheels, and all-round, we have a strong team here."
Bring the noise, Gander
Despite being happy with the way the Flyers have been playing this year, something caught Keough's eye in Saturday's game that left him feeling a little sour.
However, what caught his eye was something that happened off the ice.
The Flyers were ahead 1-0 on Saturday when Justin Bath's second-period goal tied the game 1-1. A loud Combines' cheering section went bananas when Bath scored, which was the loudest the Gander Community Centre got the entire CNHL season.
After Saturday's game, Keough was left wondering, what happened to home ice advantage?
"I'm not impressed with that," said Keough. "Twillingate ties it up, and all you can hear is this loud roar, and this is our home rink? How come our fans aren't louder? Why don't we have more fans?"
Keough, though, said the entire team appreciates what fan support it gets, but if that cheering section remains quiet, the team pretends its getting cheered by opposing fans when the other team scores.
"When they score and their fans cheer, we pretend they're cheering for us (laughs)."