Lions’ lead puts Keith’s on the ropes

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West Division semi-final series returns Friday night to Church Point

An empty net goal with eight seconds left on Sunday gave Clare Lions a 5-2 victory and a two-game lead over Valley Keith’s in the best-of-five semi-final series.

The Keith’s lost 6-2 at the Université Sainte-Anne rink in Church Point on Friday in the first game of the Junior C West Division playoffs.

The series has become increasingly chippy and at least one team official is blaming poor control by officials.

Following Sunday’s game in Digby, which saw 32 penalties handed out, including two game misconducts, Keith’s spokesman Justin Wood complained that the game referee had allowed the game to get out of hand.

The game ended with two fights going on at once, and six penalties were assessed after the final whistle had blown. “It was an embarrassment to the league,” said Wood.

Perhaps the largest crowd of the season in Digby Area Arena watched the afternoon game, including a sizeable crowd of Clare fans.

The Keith’s hauled goalie Chris Hersey in favour of a sixth attacker but Clare’s Daniel Arsenault got the puck and flipped the puck half the length of the rink to score the fifth goal.

Clare goals were scored by Ryan Gallant, Mario Blinn, Alexandre Poirier, Marc MacIntosh and Arsenault.

Valley Keith’s goals were by Devon Bezanson and Nik Richardson.

Keith’s goalie Chris Hersey proved his worth in the net, several times able to fend off breakaways by Clare.

But with the Keith’s outshot 52-27, Hersey needed more help than he was getting from the team’s offence. Passing plays seldom got completed, with pucks getting intercepted by Clare sticks.

On Friday night in Church Point, the Keith’s players had shown they could skate with Clare, the league’s top team, but the penalty-filled third period was their undoing.

The scorekeeper’s sheet showed the Keith’s were outshot 42-24, yet that imbalance wasn’t evident during the scoreless first period when the two teams played evenly.

Eric Banks had perhaps the best scoring chance for the Keith’s during the period, while team goalie Chris Hersey was again solid between the pipes.

It wasn’t until the 6:15 mark of the second period that Daniel Arsenault opened scoring for Clare, and ignited team fans. With just 38 second remaining, Ryan Gallant scored his first of the night and it looked as though the Lions would take a 2-0 lead into the dressing room—but there were two more goals to come.

Eight seconds later, Caleb d'Entremont slipped one past Clare goalie Colin LeBlanc, and the Keith’s bench and the sizeable contingent of team fans erupted. Their joy was short-lived when Alex Poirier notched a Lions goal with just seven second left in the period.

If the second period was noteworthy for its burst of goals in the dying second, the final frame was beset by penalties, with eight to the Lions and five to the Keith’s. The penalties saw Joel German of the Lions and Tristan Reede of the Keith’s ejected for fighting.

Marc MacIntosh scored at the 15:27 mark, and Gallant added his second of the night just over a minute later.

The Keith’s pressed during the third period, especially when they had a powerplay, and Eric Banks was able to add a second goal. Again, goalie Hersey made several saves that could have seen the game completely out of reach.

Clare’s sixth and final goal came from Marcel Landry with just 33 seconds left on the clock.

With the Keith’s now facing elimination, the series’ third game returns to the Université Sainte-Anne arena this Friday at 9:30 p.m.

In the West Division’s other semi-final series, Barrington Ice Dogs has a 2-0 series lead over Yarmouth Mariners.

Organizations: Church Point, Eric Banks, West Division

Geographic location: Digby

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