Regals shake off early goal in series-clinching win

Eric McCarthy
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ALBERTON -- The Western Regals are the Prince Edward Island Midget AAA champions. They defeated the Mid-Isle Matrix 4-2 in the fifth and deciding game of the best-of-five championship series Wednesday night at the Jacques Cartier Arena.

“It just feels unbelievable,” said Brendan Shea moments after the Regals went for a celebratory skate around the arena to salute their cheering fans.

Shea scored what would stand up as the series-winning goal at 14:42 of the second period. “We were on the powerplay and Jeff Gaudet had the puck behind the net and he passed it out front and I put it in the wide open net,” Shea said of the goal which he described as an “unbelievable” feeling.

“A lot of people on this team, they lost in Bantam in like, overtime and the second round and it was so heart-breaking, but this is a completely different feeling,” Shea commented.

Brendan Smith scored an insurance goal with 3:19 to go in the third period to take the pressure off the Regals. The Matrix had been pressing hard throughout the third after the Regals had carried the play in the opening two periods. Smith streaked down the left wing and let one rip as he crossed the blueline, catching Matrix goaltender Alex Smith by surprise.

While Smith faced the most pucks during the game, Regals netminder Avery Arsenault faced the most traffic, getting flattened twice by Matrix players.

“I took a few bumps, but that’s what you’ve got to do to win playoff hockey, eh?” an elated Arsenault said as the celebration continued around him.

“I knew they were going to try to get me off my game, and I knew I just had to keep my composure. I knew the boys were going to pull it out for me.”

Arsenault admitted the Regals were feeling the pressure heading into the game. “We didn’t want to be that team to blow a 2-0 (series) lead, and we wanted to win in front of our fans. We had lots of support and it’s just amazing how many people came out to support us.” Fans were packed into every cranny of the Jacques Cartier Arena trying to secure a good vantage point. Attendance wasn’t announced, but the 50-50 pay-out was $1,370.

The game was just 24 seconds old when Brady Vandervelden scored from in close to give the Matrix a 1-0 lead.

Coach Brett Corcoran said he wasn’t nervous, even after the Matrix scored that early goal.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be a 1-0 game, and I tried to pass that along the bench to let them know it was  only nerves on that first one, and we were going to bounce back after that.”

And bounce back they did, controlling play for most of the first two periods. Their first three goals were scored on the powerplay.  The Matrix were assessed five minors plus a major and a game misconduct for charging the Regals goaltender. The Regals were assessed four minors and a double minor for head contact.

“They knew they had to dig deep after that and start working extra hard to try to get that back,” he said.

Regals captain Brett Aylward evened the score with 3:18 left in the period, stickhandling in and using a defender as a screen before letting go a wrist shot from the hash marks to the left of Smith. They went up 2-1 on a Curlan Fraser goal midway through the second with Jeff Gaudet and Calvin McRae drawing assists. It was the first of three assists for Gaudet in the game. He would later be declared playoff MVP.

“It was a team effort and we all did it as a team,” Gaudet said in deflecting the praise.

Corcoran said the team spent the day together, starting off with a morning skate and then going out for breakfast. He treated the team to supper at his place before the game.

“It was a pretty big day for them, but I think that helped prepare them for tonight and what they had to do in order to accomplish their goal.”

There will probably be a few more meals together this season, though, as the Regals – and the Matrix – get set for the Atlantic Midget Championship in Alberton next week. Alberton are the host team and the Matrix go in as the provincial reps.

Matrix coach Mike Lord said he was pleased with his team’s effort. “They left it all out there.”

“They got the passes and the calls. There’s nothing much you can do about that,” he said. “That’s hockey.”

Less penalties, Lord admitted, might have produced a different outcome. “(The Regals) have a real good powerplay and I think, if you look back, the difference in all the games has been the powerplay goals.”

With the Regals and Matrix stacking up pretty even, Lord is predicting a good tournament next week in Alberton. “They’re all pretty equal, so it’s going to be good hockey.”

Geographic location: Bantam, Alberton

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