They’ve been a high-end team in the Maritime Hockey League for years, so it’s been a long time since we could call the Junior A Crushers a ‘scrappy’ bunch.
But with a road win last Sunday against the powerful Edmundston Blizzard (which followed a Nov. 30 triumph over the Truro Bearcats), lately the Crushers have taken tentative steps to remain in the Maritime Hockey League playoff picture.
In spite of injuries, player movement and their relative youth – all of them factors in a bumpy first half to the season – no one has buried them in the MHL standings.
So, overlooking the Valley Wildcats would be unwise.
“Trap game? No such thing for our group,” coach Doug Doull said this week, when asked about the danger of looking past the Wildcats and thinking instead about the Yarmouth Mariners.
“Valley thumped us 5-0 last time we met (Oct. 21 in Berwick).”
The Crushers play the Wildcats at home Thursday and the Mariners, tied for first with the South Shore Lumberjacks in the South Division, are at the Pictou County Wellness Centre on Friday.
Pictou County is five points back of the Bearcats – who’ve lost four straight – and the final playoff spot in the South Division. The Crushers have played two fewer games than Truro, who have three games in New Brunswick this weekend.
Pictou County had a long bus ride to Edmundston last Sunday to take on the league-leading Blizzard (20-4-3) and it showed early, as the Crushers were outshot 20-6 in the opening 20 minutes.
“I liked our staying power against a team that had lots of jump,” Doull said of the 3-2 overtime victory.
“We weathered a lot early and (goaltender Luke Melanson) was the difference in the first. We stayed in the fight and got better as the game wore on.”
It was, relatively speaking, a big December win for Pictou County.
“Oh yeah, that one was so nice. It was nice to put two wins together, which we hadn’t done in a while,” said Jacob Hickey, who took a pass from Dill in the extra session, broke down the left side and wristed one upstairs.
“We were all happy after that one.”
Already written off by some, the Crushers can’t afford to take many nights off if they want to stay in the playoff race.
“We take it one game at a time. We will definitely focus on Valley and worry about Yarmouth on Friday,” Hickey said.
• Defenceman Marc Gagnon returned from a six-week injury absence and assisted on both of Dylan Riley’s goals in Edmundston (Hickey said Gagnon should also have received credit for an assist on his OT winner).
• Matt Normore will play in goal on Thursday, Melanson gets the start against Yarmouth.
“One, we want Normie to go in and give us a chance to win,” said Doull. “After that, you want the team to respond (by playing well defensively).”
• Kevin Mason has six goals in 10 games and is looking more and more comfortable in junior, but Doull seemed just as happy that the 17-year-old has “bought in” and is starting to shoulder more of the defensive workload.
• Defenceman Aiden Hickey, out since Nov. 17, could return to the lineup this week.
BY THE NUMBERS
Pictou County Crushers
Record: 10-12-2 (5th place, South Division)
Top Scorers: Jacob Hickey (13G, 12A), Dylan Riley (11G, 11A), Michael Dill (8G, 14A).
Stats Say: The Crushers haven’t won three in a row all season, but can accomplish that by beating the Wildcats.
Record: 8-15-1 (6th place, South Division)
Top Scorers: Brock McLeod (10G, 18A), Makail Parker (15G, 11A), Matt Warner (11G, 8A).
Stats Say: In 11 games since Nov. 9, McLeod has seven goals and 11 assists.