GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – After falling twice to the Combines last weekend, the Blades needed a win at home Friday night – but that win didn’t come.
The Twillingate Combines took round one of the Central Newfoundland Senior Intermediate Hockey League playoffs in three straight games.
After 6-2 and 6-4 (with an empty netter) wins at home last weekend, the Combines swept the Cats 7-4 Friday night at Windsor Stadium – a devastating night to say the least, said Blades captain Justin Holloway.
“We never had our best effort,” he said. “The last four weekends we worked really hard, but we just never got the results that we hoped for.”
As for Friday night, Holloway said the Combines came with an emergency goaltender who hasn’t played in the league all year, but the Blades were a little hesitant with shots, so it didn’t work in their favour.
“We didn’t play that well,” he said. “We didn’t put the pucks in the net. Most of our shots were from the outside.
“One thing Twillingate does well is block shots. They’ll take a puck in the face for this game. That’s what they do. A lot of our good chances they blocked it so their goalie never had to (face them).”
The Combines got on the board early with a goal from John Hull. Jason Saunders reciprocated with a pass from Andrew Little less than two minutes later.
Josh May and Kristian Greenham put the Combines up by two. Hull and Alex Gill picked up the assists.
Nearing the end of the first period Neil Oake scored two quick goals to tie the game heading into the second. Little, Saunders and David Burke picked up points for the assists.
Just under two and a half minutes into the second PJ Loder gave the Blades their first lead of the game. Burke picked up another assist.
That would end scoring for the Blades as the Combines went on to three in the second and one in the third. Goals came from May, Kirk Stockley, Nathan Hull and Gill.
“We’re a second-half team usually,” Holloway said. “We never played so well in the third period.”
He said the last of the first and the second they came back and showed a lot of character but they phased out in the third.
“They got the lead and we just couldn’t rebuild it,” he said.
Fans in the stands
Twillingate not only brought their game, they brought their fans.
“We get probably 250 fans in a weekend for two games,” Holloway said. “They’ll fill their arena.”
Combines coach Stewart Froude said the team receives a lot of support from their fans.
“Our fans always follow us wherever we go,” Froude said right after Friday night’s game. “Back home tonight we would probably have 600 fans in our stadium and we probably brought 100 here tonight. When you got your fans behind you supporting you it brings the players up a lot more, when you’re on the road especially.”
Standing right outside the dressing room after their big win, he said the team was feeling great about the hard effort.
“They are feeling how they played because they are playing what we talk about all the time,” Froude said. “When you play that way, you feel a lot better when you do win.”
He said Morgan Baggs really stepped up for the team after their goalie tore up his knee and their alternate was away on vacation.
“Morgan is a guy who played with me many moons ago back with the old Combines,” Froude said. “For sure he’s happy in there.”
The coach’s thoughts on the game were to the point.
“I’m just excited that we won,” he said, adding he was waiting to see the outcome of the series between the Springdale Braves and Northeast Sabres, in which the Braves were up two games after action Feb. 17-18.
“I’m kind of hoping Springdale pulls it out because we’ll get a home-ice advantage,” Froude said. “Whoever comes out is going to be tough but we just have to play what we preach all year and if they do that we’re OK.”
His wishes came true as the Braves defeated the Sabres 5-2 Saturday night in Springdale.
The Combines will face the Braves in the finals starting this weekend.
Onward and upward
As for the Blades, their season is over but they are already looking forward to next year.
“Every year we are getting the same core but we got 10 new players every year so it’s hard to build chemistry,” Holloway said. “This is the first year we’ve had so many guys that are probably going to be around next year so hopefully this is leading up to a better year next year.”
The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor came on board this season as well, which was a plus for the team, Holloway said.
“They stepped up this year and sponsored us quite a bit,” he said. “We got a new set of jerseys and cut some of our costs for our home games. It’s setting us up good for next year.”
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