Lions clinch division with wins over Rockets

Playoff-bound Morrisburg Lions secure first place in division – A pair of wins by the Morrisburg Lions over local rivals, the North Dundas Rockets, this weekend secured the team’s first place position in the National Capital Junior Hockey League’s West Division. The Lions beat the Rockets 7-5 on Friday night, and 5-4 on Saturday night to land the top spot. Morrisburg qualified for the third year in a row for the league playoffs. This year however, the team will have home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds as the first place division finish has made the Lions the overall second seeded team. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

MORRISBURG – Two wins, a loss, and a little help from a division rival, led to the Morrisburg Lions clinching their first division title since joining the National Capital Junior Hockey League. The Lions played back-to-back-to-back games over the weekend, with big wins over the North Dundas Rockets getting the team almost to the division title. A loss by the Lions, combined with the Rockets defeating the Westport Rideaus Sunday cemented Morrisburg’s place at the top of the NCJHL West Division.

The Lions hosted North Dundas January 26 before one of the largest crowds of the season. It was the Rockets’ Jarret Ladouceur who lit up the scoreboard first, just over two minutes into the game. This lead lasted just seven minutes until Josh Price (from Landen Sinfield and Josh Broad) tied the game.

The teams were tied through to the second period. Sinfield’s goal early in the period (Price, Broad) put the Lions ahead, but that was quickly tied by Rockets forward Parker Lefebvre. The teams were log-jammed until the halfway point in the period when Sinfield (Price, Broad) cracked open the game. His goal was followed by Jack Crinklaw’s (Rylan Iwachniuk, Ayden Brascoupe) and Ben Lapier’s (Owen Fetterly, Crinklaw) – all in the span of less than two-and-a-half minutes. Lions led the Rockets 5-2 at the end of the second period.

A power-play goal from Sinfield (Iwachniuk, Curran Gilmour) in the third period added extra, and needed, insurance. North Dundas went on their own goal-scoring run, scoring three goals in under two minutes, to come within one goal of tying. Kanye McFadden (Alex Bergeron, Iwachniuk) restored the Lions’ two goal lead with seven minute remaining as Morrisburg won 7-5. Goalie Andrew Brooks earned his 15th win of the season.

The two teams battled in a rematch the following night in Chesterville, where it came down to rarely awarded penalty shot to secure the Lions’ win.

North Dundas opened the scoring in the opening minute of the game. Brady Sinclair scored twice, book-ending Theo Laforest’s goal mid-period. Lions’ forward Ashton Adams scored (from Justice Brownlee and Hudson Fetterly) in the final 70 seconds of the period which saw Morrisburg trail North Dundas 3-1 after 20 minutes of play.

The teams were goal less in the second period until Brownlee’s power-play goal in the final 70 seconds (from Lapier and Bergeron.) Lions trailed the Rockets 3-2.

Brascoupe’s tying goal nine minutes into the third period (from Iwachniuk and Crinklaw) set up a tense battle for the puck in the remaining minutes of the game.

The 3-3 tie lasted under four minutes when Rockets’ forward Jordan Cruz blasted the puck past Lions goalie Brooks to retake the lead. Adams scored his second goal of the night (Lapier, Brownlee) with 2:45 left on the clock.

A minute later, Brownlee was awarded a penalty shot on Rockets’ goalie Thomas Armstrong, scoring the game-winning-goal! Morrisburg defeated North Dundas 5-4. Brownlee continues to lead the NCJHL in power-play goals (12) and game-winning-goals (9).

The Lions returned home Sunday afternoon to take on the Almonte Inferno, Morrisburg’s third game in as many days.

Justin Cyr’s unassisted goal mid-way through the first period opened the Lions’ scoring for the day. Almonte retaliated late in the first period when Justin Greene burned the Lions power-play by scoring a short-handed-goal with two minutes on the clock. The teams were tied 1-1 entering the second period.

Greene struck again five minutes into the second period on an Inferno power-play. Almonte led Morrisburg 2-1 into the third period.

Six goals were scored in the third period, but only two of those came from the Lions. Lapier scored both Morrisburg goals, at the four minute and 11 minute marks. Almonte added insurance goals twice, then scored an empty-netter in the final minute. Lions lost to the Inferno 6-3.

Despite the loss to the league’s last place team, associate coach Steve Iwachniuk was excited about the team’s success, and securing second seed in the playoffs.

“Having the opportunity to clink first place in the division, that’s the goal we set out early this season – and we did that,” explained Iwachniuk. “It’s been a long time since the Morrisburg Lions have been able to say that. It’s something we need to celebrate.”

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The coach said that seasonal illnesses have hit some members of the team, which accounted the drop off in energy in the second game against the Rockets, and the loss to the Inferno.

“We didn’t have the energy, but it comes down to us having to keep going through,” he said. “It’s such a long season and I’m really proud of how these boys have done in getting this far. We’ve got to get through these next two games and build as much momentum as possible for the run in the playoffs.”

Iwachniuk said the team’s depth in forwards has enabled it to have four lines playing throughout most of the season. The third line of Landen Sinfield, Josh Broad, and Josh Price played a big part in the team’s success Friday night accounting for four of the seven goals scored.

“It was one of those games that I had that extra step in me that just let me get ahead of others,” Sinfield told The Leader. Sinfield’s four point night (three goals, one assist) was his best game of the season.

The 20 year old forward is in his third season with the team, joining in 2021. Sinfield said he and his line mates are seen as one of the energy lines on the team.

“We’re not the top scorers, so there’s not as much pressure,” he explained. “We’re just having fun as we go. It’s great to be able to contribute.”

Sinfield said the team has been building for the last two seasons. Going into the playoffs as the second-seeded team, instead of from a lower spot in the standings is a different feeling.

“It’s definitely much better,” he said. “We’re prepping for playoff mode, rather than fighting life-or-death just to get into them. It’s allowing us to prepare better for what’s to come.”

The loss to Almonte Sunday meant the team needed a helping hand from North Dundas to clinch their division. The Rockets defeated the Westport Rideaus 3-1 January 27.

Morrisburg still has two games remaining in the regular season, both on the road.

The team played the Rideaus Tuesday night (January 30) – the score for that game was not available at publication deadline. Morrisburg will close out the regular season in Prescott February 4 against the South Grenville Rangers. The team needs one point to seal second place overall in the league. The 20-11-1 Lions have 41 points, three points ahead of the Vankleek Hill Cougars and 16 points behind defending NCJHL champions, the Gatineau Hull-Volant.

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