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Blades Win Round One in Six!

BUFFALO, NY- MARCH 17: Gleb Akimov #9 of the Oakville Blades scores a goal during the second period at the LECOM Harborcenter on March 17, 2024 in New York, USA (Photo by Tim Bates / OJHL Images)

By Ty Brooks

 

BLADES WIN THE SERIES!

 

After a small scare where the Jr. Sabres won back-to-back games to push the series all the way to game 6, the Blades finished off the series emphatically with a 6-1 win in Buffalo! The Blades are headed into the next round of the playoffs after taking the series 4-2, and it was a strong series that saw both success and adversity. The team cruised to three straight victories (6-2, 6-1, 4-0) before running into a speed bump and losing two close games (3-2 OT, 3-2). Then, on March 17th in Buffalo, the Blades found their stride once again, exploded for four goals in the second period, and sailed to a 6-1 win to send the Jr. Sabres packing.

 

If you weren’t able to catch Game 6 in Buffalo, here’s a quick scoring summary:

 

1st period

G: Kussmann (2); A: Indovina (1); Churchill (1) (14:25)

2nd period

G: Kussmann (3) A: Indovina (2) (5:52)

G: Akimov (3); A: Crisp (3); Smallegange (2) (12:48)

G: Donohoe (2); A: Akimov (2); Bonsteel (8) (13:21)

G: Clarke (2) A. Rutherford (1) Smallegange (3) (15:32)

 

3rd period

G: Tyrrell (5) A: Churchill (2), Indovina (3) (EN) (12:37)

 

Final Score

OAK 6 BUF 1

McCarthy 35/36 SVS .972 SV%

Oakville wins the series 4-2.

 

It was a character win, stopping Buffalo’s momentum in its tracks and sealing off the series against a team that they were evenly matched with in the regular season. In some ways, it’s almost better that the team had to face adversity, as they definitely will in further rounds, and learn how to overcome it. Either way, it was a win that saw contributions from up and down the lineup, as did the series.

 

While there were a few players who really caught fire in this series (more on them later), it cannot be overstated how much of a group effort this first round really was. 18 different players registered at least one point in these six games, which is a really impressive statline. Four players (Tyrrell, Bonsteel, Donohoe, and Akimov) sit at one point per game through the first round, while another three (Kussman, Clarke, and Johnston) were just one point shy of that mark. 13 players, including 3 defencemen and 10 forwards, recorded at least 1 goal, no matter the games played. Overall, this certainly was a team-wide effort, but there are definitely some incredible individual performances that should be noted.

 

Series MVP: 

#74: Gavin McCarthy

6 GP 222/232 SVS 1.59 GAA .957 SV%

 

Nobody in this series performed better than Gavin McCarthy. No goalie in the first round of the OJHL playoffs played as many games as Gavin McCarthy, and nobody in the first round of the OJHL playoffs made more saves than Gavin McCarthy. In fact, there’s only one goaltender that comes close to McCarthy’s numbers, and that goalie faced less than half of the shots that McCarthy did. Further to that point, McCarthy has the same save percentage as that goalie, despite playing two more games against a higher-seeded opposition and not playing behind the #1-ranked team in the CJHL.

 

Big and timely saves, complete confidence between the pipes, and consistent goaltending when it was needed most. Simply put, there was no better goaltender in the 1st round of the playoffs, and he was not only one of the difference makers but rather the biggest difference maker in this series.

 

Top Forward:

#94: Noah Tyrrell

6 GP, 5G, 6A, 11PTS

 

The Blades brought in a wealth of new players to help bolster their roster for the OJHL playoffs and the Centennial Cup; included in that list is Noah Tyrrell. To say that the trade for Noah Tyrrell (among others) has paid off would be an understatement. Since joining the team, Tyrrell has recorded above a point per game (11-11-22 in 21GP) while also bringing a leadership presence, having been captain of his OJHL team before the trade. Since getting into the playoffs, he has sustained a fantastic pace of scoring and led the team through the first round, scoring at a pace of almost 2 points per game. Through the 1st round of the playoffs, he’s T-2nd in goals and leads the league in points with 11. Getting a point in five of the six games he played, he has shown remarkable levels of consistency and is always dangerous when out on the ice.

 

Top Defenceman:

#4: Eric Bonsteel

6 GP, 1G, 8A, 9PTS

 

Oakville had plenty of good defence-first defencemen returning to the lineup this year, but after some players left last season, they were lacking a defender who was a true veteran capable of running a top-tier powerplay. Enter Eric Bonsteel.

 

Shattering his career high totals in the regular season with nine goals, he also took a huge leap in assists, going from a career high of 26 to having 40 this year. Bonsteel arrived in Oakville and ran the powerplay with poise, a powerplay that sat among the best in the league during the regular season. He’s another one of those veteran guys who provides extreme value on and off the ice and has already participated in the OJHL playoffs twice and went to the league final last season. Bonsteel was the premier offensive-producing defender in the first round, scoring four more points than any other defender in play. Just as impressively, three Blades defenders sit in the top seven of that same category. Bonsteel, the best of them, has shown his poise and passing ability in the first round and will look to carry it all into the second round.

 

Underrated Performance:

#44: Cormick Smallegange

6 GP, 1G, 3A, 4PTS

 

After being an impressive AP last year for the team, he signed in the offseason and was a solid presence on the backend in Oakville. Despite never having played playoff hockey at the Jr. A level, he was very strong through all six games. He sits 4th in defencemen scoring in the OJHL playoffs, but that’s not even the most impressive part of his game. Smallegange looked like the hardest worker in his own end at times, constantly derailing attacks and charging into the corners to take away opponents time and space. Despite no power play usage, only even strength and penalty kill time, he had a +4 through the 6 games and was always working hard to shut down the opposition. Smallegange definitely deserves a nod for his work against Buffalo.

 

More Playoff Hockey!

Blades playoff hockey is finally back, and the Blades had a very successful first round. On to the next round, where they’ll move on to another team in the western conference. The team in question is the Collingwood Blues, last year’s Buckland Cup Champions and the #1 seed in the conference. Collingwood is undoubtedly a strong team, but the Blades did beat them multiple times in the 2023–2024 regular season. The question is, what will happen when these two teams meet in the playoffs?