Weekend sweep leaves Pirates first in East

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

On the bus to Manning last Friday, the Falher Pirates were winless and in last place in the NPHL’s East Division.

Less than 30 hours later, and two straight road wins, the Pirates woke up Sunday morning in first place, thanks to a 4-2 win at Manning Nov. 24 and a 5-3 win at Valleyview Nov. 25.

“Yes, I thought we had a good weekend,” says coach Dan Aubin, understating the obvious after eight days off.

“We had a good week of practice, our defensive game is coming together nicely and our offence is starting to come around.”

The Pirates also won both games despite giving up the first goal. It continued a horrible trend of allowing the first goal in all six games this season, but this time the team rallied to win.

Adam Sceviour’s first period power play goal gave the Comets a 1-0 lead at Manning.

However, in the second period, the Pirates snoozing offence woke up. Jonah Maisonneuve, Cale Fox and Trevor Tokarz all scored to give the Pirates a 3-1 lead. It was an avalanche of goals by Pirates’ standards. So far this season, the team ranks sixth in the seven-team NPHL with only 2.83 goals per game.

However, the key point came in the third period. With the Pirates ahead 3-1, the Comets went on the power play with just over 14 minutes left. It was time to turn to a veteran for help and Denis Rochon delivered with a shorthanded goal.

“(It) was an intercepted pass at the blue line that led to a partial breakaway and a good shot from the right side that sneaked through (Braden) Gamble somehow,” says Aubin.

Jeff Boese added a late goal but the Pirates were home and cooled. As bad as their offence has been this season, their defence has been very good allowing just over three goals per game, third best in the league.

“The coaching staff has preached a defence first attitude with an emphasis on positioning and the players have taken pride in that part of their game,” says Aubin.

“Our veteran leaders have been the quiet lead by example types that the young guys have responded well,” he adds.

Of course, the last line of defence – the goaltender – have to play well.

“Both our goaltenders (Ryan Noble and Chris Key) have given us a chance to win in every game we’ve played in so far,” says Aubin.

Noble stopped 36 of 38 shots at Manning and followed it up by stopping 34 of 37 shots at Valleyview the next night. It continued his fine form of play, joining the NPHL last season and recording the second best goals against average in the league.

“Noble continues to show that he has the potential to become a dominant player in the league,” says Aubin.

“He’s very competitive and has become a quiet leader in the room.”

At Valleyview, the teams were locked in tight battle, being tied after the first and second periods. In the first period, Cruz Cote and Walker Cote scored for the Pirates while Cole Basnett netted both Jets’ goals.

In the second period, Rylee Hebert gave the Jets a 3-2 lead before Maisonneuve tied it with 3: 21 left.

In the third, Maisonneuve’s second of the night and third of the weekend, proved to be the game-winner at 3:47. Less than a minute later, Trevor Tokarz gave the Pirates a 5-3 lead.

The Pirates were given a scare just before the halfway point of the period when the Jets went up two men. However, the Pirates’ league-leading penalty killing unit stymied the Jets’ attack and they held on for the win.

The Pirates next play the Comets and Jets at home with a chance to put some distance between their opponents in the standings

“We certainly have an opportunity ahead of us between now a Christmas to take steps forward in the standings,” says Aubin.

“We know from last year the value of home ice advantage in the playoffs and we will do the best we can to be prepared for our next game without looking to far ahead of us. Our focus will be to keep our defensive game in place while improving on our offence and in particular our power play.”

So far this season, home ice has been a nightmare for East Division teams. They have only won once with seven losses and an overtime loss in nine games. The Pirates and Jets have yet to win at home this season while the Comets have won only once. Still, when you have to win a game, you would rather play at home.

Matters should only improve in the new year as some veterans are expected to return to bolster the young group which is receiving valuable playing time and experience.

“We have a number of veterans/regulars including Darren Kramer that have family and work commitments that haven’t allowed them to play much this year, but they will be coming into the fold somewhere along the way,” says Aubin.

He cautions everyone to be readd to play.

“It’s a long season, there will be injuries, and family commitments so we are building a roster that will keep us competitive throughout the season,” says Aubin.

“All the players involved have a next man up attitude and are encouraged as are the coaches about our progress so far this season.”

The Pirates host the Comets Dec. 1 and Valleyview Dec. 9. Game time is 8:30 p.m.

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