It was an eventful weekend and early Monday for the CeeBee Stars in provincial senior hockey league playoff action.
After pulling off a satisfying weekend split in the opening two games of their best-of-seven semifinal encounter with the highly favoured Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, the tough sledding was hardy over for the visiting side.
Central Newfoundland was hit with some nasty weather just as the team was boarding its bus back to the East Coast.
The bus got as far as Gander, an hour away from Grand Falls, before road conditions forced a halt to the journey.
The CeeBees stayed overnight at a hotel in Gander before hopping back on the bus earlier Monday (Feb. 18) morning. The prolonged road trip did not conclude until Monday afternoon.
Road woes aside, members of the team were understandably upbeat about the weekend.
“You can't not be happy,” said CeeBee captain Keith Delaney.
In Game 1 on Saturday (Feb. 16), the CeeBees trailed by as many as two goals, but fought back to take a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory.
Robert Slaney scored the winner just 30 seconds into the extra frame to cap the come-from-behind victory.
The big player in the first game was towering forward Chris Sparkes. Sparkes scored the first three goals for CeeBees, including two straight in the second period to even the game.
“(Chris Sparkes) is playing amazing,” said coach Peter George. “He’s getting better every game.”
George said he and fellow coach Ian Moores have been telling Sparkes to go to the net, and it has begun paying dividends for the veteran forward.
“When he does, good things happen,” he said. “He’s a big body. He has a long reach and he’s going to get some rebounds and put them in the back of the net.”
George called Saturday’s game a “team win.”
Sunday’s game was different. Even though both teams produced seven combined goals — the Cataracts led 4-3 — in the first period, George felt like both teams were flat.
“In my mind, we had an opportunity to come up and have a comfortable lead,” the coach said.
The Cataracts would score twice in both the second and third periods to push the score to 8-3 and the game out of reach.
Delaney said the team got caught in a fast-paced game. It’s a style the Cataracts thrive on.
“We can’t get caught in a run-and-gun,” he said. “We’re not built for a run-and-gun style.”
Delaney said CeeBees’ starter Mark Yetman gave the team every opportunity to win.
“As a team, we lost focus on our defensive responsibilities,” he said.
Anytime the road team can walk away from the first two games of a playoff series with a win it’s a good thing.
With the victory, the CeeBees have wrestled home-ice advantage away from the Cataracts.
Even though the Cataracts took Game 2, the CeeBees did out-shoot the Cats 39-32. George said peppering opposition goaltender A.J. Whiffen with pucks is something the club is focusing on as the series shifts to Harbour Grace this weekend.
“We gotta go to the net hard,” he said. “He’s a great goalie. If he sees the puck most times he is going to stop it. We need to go to the net, get in front of him and be hungry for rebounds.”
The team will have two practices this week ahead of Game 3 on Saturday.
Game 3 is set to start at 7:30 p.m. at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium on Feb. 23, while Game 4 goes 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 24.