A rocking Sturgeon Falls Arena crowd couldn’t push the West Nipissing Lynx to an upset over the Bradford Rattlers on Saturday night, as the hometown team was eliminated from the playoffs with a 7-5 loss.
The Rattlers swept the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League’s (GMHL) best-of-three series following a 6-3 win in Bradford on Thursday, March 10. In both games, the seventh seeded Lynx leapt out to two-goal leads over the favoured Rattlers, but they were unable to hold on in the third period. The playoffs were a microcosm of the Lynx season: starting strong but unable to finish with that same intensity.
“We’ve been a team that shows up for the first two periods well and then we sit back a bit in the third,” admitted West Nipissing captain Chad Lafortune after the game. “We take our foot off the gas a little bit for sure.”
The Lynx opened the season with a 5-1 record before suffering losing streaks of six and 10 games, finishing the year on a seven-game slide. Still, West Nipissing was playing their best hockey of the year in this brief playoff run and gave hundreds of raucous fans at the Sturgeon Falls Arena a great show on March 12.
In what would end up being the final game of his six-year Lynx career, Lafortune opened the scoring by pouncing on an Eden Laliberte rebound to give West Nipissing the lead less than three minutes in.
“I think for a lot of the 21-year-olds coming into this game, it was just about taking a moment to step back and really absorb what was going on,” said Lafortune. “Going into the game, nobody left anything on the ice, there was a lot of emotions for sure.”
Andre-Michel Labelle beat Bradford goalie David Irsak on an unscreened point shot to widen the Lynx lead halfway through the first period.
Bradford countered on one of the rare powerplays handed out in a very physical game. Chase Kanasawe got called for a trip, the Lynx were unable to clear their zone and Vadim Frolov rang one in off the post to cut West Nipissing’s lead in half.
Midway through the second period, Bradford tied the game up on another Frolov goal. But rather than fold, the Lynx once again took it to the GMHL’s fourth best team. First Liam Thor split the defense and beat Irsak on a nifty backhand to restore West Nipissing’s lead. Then a minute later, Lafortune potted his second of the night to send the Lynx into the third period with a 4-2 edge.
The third period was when the ice tilted in Bradford’s favor: the Rattlers outshot the Lynx 22-9 in the final frame. Two minutes in, Frolov secured his hat trick and cut the lead to one. West Nipissing was able to counter right off the face off, as another shot from Thor managed to trickle between Irsak’s legs and end up in the back of the net.