GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL — The Clarenville Caribous are just one game away from clinching the best of seven semi-final series against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts in the Central West Senior Hockey League.
The Caribous lost to the Cats Saturday night at the Joe Byrne Arena in Grand Falls-Windsor, in an intense contest that saw the score flip back and forth.
The Cats were ahead 1-0 after the first period, and went ahead 2-0 early in the second.
The Caribous managed two goals to tie it up, but by the end of the second the Cats were ahead 4-2.
The Caribous scored a third goal, but were unable to get the tying goal before the final buzzer sounded.
“We didn’t play awful, but we weren’t our normal selves on Saturday night,” said Russell.
She adds, while they were able to push back and tie the game in the second period of Game 3, they still fell short when the final horn sounded.
“It was a little bit disappointing … but I told our players, ‘I have 100 per cent confidence (and) whatever situation we’re in, we’re going to do our best to pull through.’ I thought they did just that on Sunday.”
Sure enough, the ‘Bous were able to rebound come Sunday afternoon, securing a 3-1 series lead another close, hard-fought game.
This game saw both teams deadlocked 1-1 after two periods of play.
The Caribous went up 2-1 early in the third, but the Cats replied quickly to tie it up 2-2.
The Caribous managed another goal to make it 3-2 and in the last minutes of the period the Cats pulled their goalie to try to score and push to overtime.
However, the Caribous scored twice on the empty net for the win.
“It was a big one for us,” says coach Russell. “Sunday I felt like we had just a little more jump in our step.”
Like Saturday, Russell says Game 4 was a tense matchup with heated battles in the second period leading to penalties.
At the end of that frame, there was an incident which led to the ejection of the head coaches of both teams — Russell and Cats’ head coach Pat Yetman.
In a turn of events which she describes as neither of their fault, Russell says both the coaches released their team from their respective benches too early, before the referee gave the go-ahead, at the end of the second period, resulting in altercations between players.
“They had one player leave their bench and come directly over to ours,” says Russell.
Two players emerging from the penalty box also got into an altercation, she adds.
Russell says, ultimately, Yetman and herself were ejected for the final period because they didn’t hold the bench until the ref’s signal to leave for the locker rooms.
“It was frustrating for me. I didn’t really see it as the right call because I didn’t really do much. I was pretty calm with the whole thing and tried to keep my players under control.”
However, while she doesn’t agree with the call, she understood the punishment — and the Caribous ended up with the win regardless.
Nevertheless, Russell says it’s not a good feeling for a coach to be watching from the stands and not on the bench during the final period of a pivotal playoff game. She says she breathed a sigh of relief at the final empty-netter.
“I was a little bit rattled, obviously, because I felt there wasn’t much in my control I could’ve done there. It’s not like I got kicked out for screaming or yelling or anything. I felt like we kept our cool, as did (Cats’ coach Yetman).”
Luckily, assistant coach and general manager Ivan Hapgood was on hand to run the bench for the third, and Russell says the team stuck to their game plan.
As the head coaches watched from the stands, the Caribous went ahead in the third thanks to a top-shelf goal from Justin Pender, and 30 seconds later the Cats’ Danny Wicks tied it up again.
Chad Earle put the Caribous ahead again, and two empty netters late in the third meant a 5-2 win for the away team.
“So far, my experience in the playoffs with this team (last year and this year), has definitely been a positive.”
Russell and the Caribous are looking to keep the momentum going in Game 5 this Friday night in Clarenville.
If they win, they advance to the CWSHL championships against the Gander Flyers.
“When we were get off the bus (Sunday) night, everyone was like, ‘See you Friday, let’s get this finished.’
“We know that they’re going to come back fighting … Our goal is to come in Friday night ready to play when the puck drops and hopefully finish the series at home.”
Game time is 8:30 p.m. at the Eastlink Events Centre.