Those were the first two words out of coach Greg Smale’s mouth after the Legion A-E Midgets defeated Collingwood Blackhawks 2-0 Saturday afternoon in front of an estimated 500 fans at the Pyramid Rec. Centre.
The hard-fought win gave the Legion squad a 3-0 sweep of the best-of-five OMHA championship series.
Saturday’s Game 3 was clearly the best of the series, but St. Marys was still the dominant team. Combined, the Rock out-scored the Hawks 9-1 in the three games.
“This team set a lot of goals this season, and we met most of those goals,” coach Smale said afterwards. “We went undefeated in the Shamrock League, we won Regional Silver Stick, and we lost in the ‘A’ final at International Silver Stick. But I think that loss helped propel us to this All-Ontario victory today.
“We played great the entire playoffs. We stressed defence first, and everybody bought in, and we also got great goaltending. It was a key today.
“I’m really proud of the guys and proud of the coaches. We have a great group of kids and I couldn’t be happier for them. We’ve had the support of the parents all year, and it makes a big difference on a hockey team.”
A strong forecheck was one of the biggest keys to beating the Blackhawks, noted Smale, who won his first All-Ontario title as a SMMHA coach.
“Collingwood’s a great team and they’re well-coached,” he said. “They’re pretty disciplined and they like to get pucks in deep.
“But we came at them hard, and I don’t think they were expecting that. We look after our end first, and then we worry about offence. It worked for us all year.
“I think Collingwood wanted a little more flow, but we wanted to grind a little bit more.”
Hawks look to spoil party
On Saturday, the teams came out and set a good, fast, intense pace. It appeared early that Blackhawks wanted to spoil the St. Marys party and force a Game 4 back in Collingwood the following day.
Late in the first period, Hawks run into a string of penalties, giving St. Marys back-to-back powerplays—including a lengthy 5-on-3 man advantage. However, the home team couldn’t capitalize.
A good play by Mason Mueller set up what proved to be the winning goal at 5:03 of the middle frame. The big winger went hard to the net with the puck, and linemate Cole Campbell jammed in the rebound.
Collingwood applied its strongest pressure late in the period, but goalie Mitch Blacklock shut the door. The Rock penalty-killers also did a good job of not letting the Hawks get their powerplay established.
Good forechecking by Brady McCallum and Tyler Jarrett helped set up the insurance goal just 27 seconds into the third. The puck came to Mike Smith in the slot, and he snapped one past Noah Brennen.
With the 2-0 lead, the Legion squad increased its forechecking attack—often pinning the visitors in their own end and eating up the clock.
Brennen, meanwhile, made a couple of brilliant stop in the final period to keep his team in the game.
With 6:13 remaining, the Rock picked up a five-minute major for charging. However, outstanding work by the penalty-killers allowed just one Collingwood shot on net.
At the final buzzer, the Legion Midgets mobbed goaltender Blacklock.
Final shots were 18-11 in favour of St. Marys.
Legion captain Will Thomson, who was a tower of strength on the blue line, said it was a team effort all season.
“Everybody played as a team,” the big defenceman said. “When we got down, we just kept battling back and grinding and working in the corners. We’re not a skilled team, just a hard-working team and that’s why we won the All-Ontario.
“Once we won the Caledonia (semi-final) series, I think we had all the momentum in our favour. We started this series hard and we finished it hard.”
--The Legion A-E Midgets played a total of 16 OMHA playoff games on their way to the provincial title, posting a won-loss-tied record of 11-2-3. They defeated Strathroy (2-1-2), Mooretown (3-0), Caledonia (3-1-1) and Collingwood (3-0).
The Rock out-scored their playoff opponents 49-23 in 16 games.
--It’s the second straight year that the Legion A-E Midget team has captured the provincial title. Jay Armstrong coached last year’s team to the OMHA championship.
--Following Saturday’s game, the Legion Midgets stayed and cheered on the Cement Midgets, who are playing South Muskoka in the ‘BB’ final. After that, they boarded the St. Marys fire truck for the traditional victory ride around town. It’s a reward for all provincial champions, courtesy of the St. Marys Fire Department.
--St. Marys minor hockey’s ‘Wing Night’ is Thursday, Apr. 17 at the St. Marys golf club.