Playoff preview

Matt Molloy
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Flyers take two of three from Western

Bring on the playoffs.

If this weekend’s three-game series between the Gander Flyers and Western Royals is any indication of what the opening round of the provincial senior hockey league playoffs should look like, fans should prepare themselves for some wild post-season action.

Chad Locke (3G 1A), Sean Wadden (3G 1A) and Steve Brazil (4A) led the way for the Flyers with four points each over the three games, while captain Peter Campbell, who missed Friday night’s game in Deer Lake, followed with three (1G 2A). Brad Slaney (2A) and Jeremy Van Hoof (1G 1A) had two points each, while Steve Pearson, Rob Mignardi, Matt Squires, and Ryan Matheson added assists.

The Flyers won the opening game of the series Friday night in Deer Lake 4-2, lost 5-3 back in Gander on Saturday night, but took the series on Sunday with a 1-0 win.

Patty O’Brien started all three games for the Flyers over the weekend, and made 131 saves during the series, including a 55-save performance in Friday’s win, and a 40-save performance on Sunday, which saw him pick up his first shutout of the season.

“I think the main thing was getting the win here,” said O’Brien on Sunday. “We had a really good weekend, and although we lost a tough one (Saturday) night, the boys played excellent all weekend long. It feels great to top it off with a hard-fought win like this.”

The same two teams will meet in the best-of-five opening round of the playoffs, which begins over the Feb. 15 weekend in Deer Lake. The intensity started to pick up as this series went on, and included a spirited fight between Western’s Parker Deighan and Gander’s Grant Donovan on Saturday night.

Although the gloves stayed on during Sunday’s game, there was a lot of post-whistle pushing and shoving going on, and Locke opened the game with a hard hit on former NHL player Darren Langdon, which got the crowd going at the Gander Community Centre.

Slaney, who played alongside Langdon with the Royals in 2011, said Locke’s hit in the very first shift set the tone for the rest of the game.

“It was certainly two big boys hitting each other. Langer doesn’t like to get hit too often,” said Locke. “It’s nice to see Chad hit someone like that, and it really got the team going and got our spirits up. Three games in three days is tough.”

They battle so hard and I can’t say enough about the boys. I frigging love these guys. Patty O’Brien

It’s going to get even tougher for the Flyers moving forward. The team will wrap up the regular season this weekend against the first-place Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, and will then prepare for the first round of the playoffs against the Royals.

Forward Andrew White, who took a shot off the ankle during a Jan. 19 game against the Clarenville Caribous, didn’t play over the weekend, and may miss this weekend with a fractured bone in his foot.

However, he expects to return for the team’s playoff series, and although there are a few injured bodies walking around the Flyers’ dressing room, he expects everyone will be ready to go when the puck drops in Deer Lake in February.

“It’s going to be a grinding series,” said White on Sunday. “A few of us are banged up and it’s going to be a tough series to play in, but you play all season for playoff hockey, and I know I can speak for all the guys and say that’s where we want to be.”

“I expect to see more of the same hockey you saw this weekend. Western has a good hockey team; they’re big and physical and that’s the style of game they play,” said O’Brien. “If we stick to our game plan and battle hard, it should be an interesting playoff series for sure.”

And O’Brien is confident the team in front of him will battle hard. Guys were blocking shots, taking and giving hits, and were sticking up for one another against one of the most physically imposing teams in the league over the weekend.

“They battle so hard and I can’t say enough about the boys. I frigging love these guys,” said O’Brien of his teammates. “They played excellent over the weekend and we have to keep it rolling.”

mmolloy@ganderbeacon.ca

Twitter: @BeaconSports12

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