Morrisburg Lions on the brink of elimination

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MORRISBURG – The Morrisburg Lions are on the verge of being bounced from the National Capital Junior Hockey League playoffs following a pair of losses over the weekend.

Entering the March 9 game at home with playoff series against the Vankleek Hill Cougars tied at one game apiece, the Lions were doubled 6-3.

Associate coach Steve Iwachniuk took responsibility for the Saturday night loss. “We, as management, decided we would try something different, and it didn’t work. [It] went downhill from there. I take full responsibility.”

The change involved moving players around, in part while dealing with the two-game suspension of Kayne McCadden after the March 3 game. Rylan Iwachniuk, a forward who has played in defence, was moved back to offence.

“We let in some weak goals. Our energy was way down,” the coach said. “We allowed 41 turnovers.”

Vankleek Hill opened the scoring five minutes into the first period and held the lead for eight minutes. Lions’ forward Ben Lapier (Alex Bergeron, Justice Brownlee) tied the game with under seven minutes left in the period. Two quick goals, 19 seconds apart with under four left on the clock extended the Cougars lead to 3-1. A shorthanded goal by Brownlee (Lapier) in the final minute of the period added some energy on the ice for the Lions. Morrisburg trailed Vankleek Hill 3-2 after a busy 20 minutes.

The Lions entered the second period on a penalty-kill, short another defenceman, as Owen Fetterly was tagged with a charging major penalty towards the end of the first period and left the game. The Cougars scored two minutes into the second period, extending their lead to two goals. Morrisburg squandered changes on Vankleek Hill’s goal, with many of the aforementioned turnovers happening in the neutral zone. The Lions continued to trail the Cougars 4-2 going into the final frame.

Morrisburg settled down in the third period, getting more pucks towards the goal, but few shots on target. A power-play goal by the Cougars with 4:36 left in the game extended their lead further. Following a time-out by the Lions, Morrisburg went on the offensive, pulling goalie Carson Turner and running with a 6-on-4 power-play. That gamble paid off. Bergeron and Brownlee set up a power-play goal by Ashton Adams with 2:34 left on the clock. Morrisburg kept the pressure on, rallying for a comeback. Cougars’ forward Jérémy Marcotte sent the puck down and into the empty net with 1:09 left to cement the game as a 6-3 loss for Morrisburg.

“The other team worked harder than we did and that’s why they won,” Iwachniuk said. “Those moments can’t happen in games like this.”

Less than 24 hours later, the two teams were back at it on the ice for Game Four of the series in Vankleek Hill. Iwachniuk said the game was “a very entertaining game for those watching.”

The Lions held the lead twice in the goal-scoring juggernaut of a game – one in the first period, and one in the third.

Six seconds into the game, Marcotte put the Cougars up 1-0, but Brownlee tied the game exactly 30 seconds later, setting the pace for the 14 goal game.

Adams (Josh Broad, Ayden Brascoupe) broke the tie in the Lions’ favour at the halfway mark of the first period. Morrisburg led for 30 seconds before the Cougars tied it up again.

A power play goal in the opening minute of the second period sent the Cougars ahead. Bergeron’s power-play goal (Rylan Iwachniuk, Brownlee) two minutes later tied it up again at 3-3.

Two more goals by Vankleek Hill at the midway point in the game were answered by Bergeron (Lapier, Brownlee) and Brownlee (Bergeron, Iwachniuk). The teams were tied 5-5 at the end of 40 minutes.

Six minutes into the third period, Broad (Jakob Bennett, Josh Price) sent the Lions ahead 6-5. Again, that lead didn’t last long. The Cougars responded with the first of three unanswered goals, resulting in an 8-6 loss for the Lions.

“We played 58 minutes of hockey,” offered Coach Iwachniuk.

“We had the right attitude. It was a hard nosed game. There were a lot of chances, but unfortunately [the Cougars] are a strong team. We did not lose due to work ethic on Sunday.”

The Cougars now take a 3-1 stranglehold in the best-of-seven semifinal series heading into Game Five in Morrisburg Friday night (March 15).

Looking to the game, Iwachniuk said he was not fearful of the result now that the Lions must win the next three games to reach the finals.

“This is junior hockey. If you show up and are prepared, you can win,” he said. “It’s very close between these two teams. Who ever shows up wins.”

He offered no predictions on Friday’s results. “From here on we are going to prepare the best we can and hope the result is what we want.”

The Lions host the Cougars March 15 at the Morrisburg Arena – puck drop is 7:30 p.m. Game six, if needed, will be played in Vankleek Hill March 16. Game seven of the series will be in Morrisburg March 17 starting at 4:30 p.m.

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