On equal footing

Andrea Gunn
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Express, Mariners split first weekend of best-of-seven series

Bishop's Falls Junior Express captain Mike Vaters tries to beat Port aux Basques Junior Mariners player Grant Vincent to the puck during Sunday's game. It was Vaters' first weekend back after a lengthy absence, he scored two goals and assisted in six more during the two games.

The two teams left standing in the Central West Junior Hockey League are on equal footing after the first weekend series of the league's final playoff round.

The best-of-seven series between the Bishop's Falls Junior Express and the Port aux Basques Junior Mariners kicked off this past weekend at the Pat O'Reilly Memorial Stadium in Bishop's Falls. Nothing was decided as the teams went one and one for the weekend, with the Express taking Saturday night's game 6-5 and the Mariners winning Sunday afternoon 8-7 in extra time.

Express head coach Kevin Hynes noted that the crowd that showed up to support the team on Saturday evening was one of the best turnouts all season.

"It was a back and fourth hard fought game, we ended up taking the lead in the third period and we played well with the lead," said Hynes.

Port aux Basques closed the two-point gap and scored with four seconds left in the final period, but it wasn't enough to win the game for the visiting team.

Marcus Samson, Chris Pelley, Mike Vaters, Corey Brent, Marshall Gillard, and Travis Champion scored for the Express on Saturday.

Aside from the opposite outcome, Hynes said Sunday's gameplay was actually extremely similar to Saturday's on-ice action.

"It was pretty much the same game, we were up 7-5 with four minutes left and they ended up scoring a goal with a minute and three seconds left, and another goal with six seconds left to tie it," said Hynes. "(There was) a couple of bad bounces and I think when we got the lead in the second game we tried to play a little bit too defensively and it really hurt us."

Brent and Vaters scored once apiece for the Express during Sunday's game, and Champion scored an impressive five times during the game.

Hynes said while both games this weekend were a team effort, starting goalie Tyler Whiffen, as well as Champion, who the team picked up just after Christmas, contributed significantly to the weekend's games.

It was also the first weekend back on the ice for former team captain Vaters who spent the last several months away for work. Hynes said Vaters is a huge asset to the team and they're grateful to have him back for the playoffs. In addition to his two goals, Vaters assisted in six others throughout the course of the weekend.

"(Vaters) is in his last year of junior so he's a bit older, a bit more mature and you can just see the experience. It's almost like he takes over the game when he's out there playing he makes things happen for the players on his line," said Hynes. "He also makes the other team...play a different style of hockey when he's out there, you always try to be on the offence but its like the other team is always playing the defense whenever (Vaters) is out on the ice."

But, Hynes said, the Mariners also have a roster full of talented young players that want to win the series just as badly.

"I still have complete confidence in this team and complete confidence we'll win this series, but Port aux Basques are a good team, we've got to watch out for them."

The Express will be in Port aux Basques for Games 3 and 4 this weekend, and back in Bishop's Falls on the 23 and 24 of March for Games 5 and, if needed 6. If a seventh game is needed, it will be played in Port aux Basques the last weekend in March.

The winner of this series will go on to compete against the host team, the Stephenville Junior Jets, as well as the winner of the St. John's Junior Hockey League for the coveted Vietch Memorial Trophy in April.

See future editions of the Advertiser for more coverage on this exciting series.

Organizations: Mariners, Central West Junior Hockey League, Falls Junior Express Stephenville Junior Jets

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, Pat O'Reilly Memorial Stadium, St. John's

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