TRURO - One goal down, many more to come.
With Saturday's 5-3 win over the Valley Wildcats (19-25-4-1) in front of 896 fans at RECC, the Truro Bearcats put a check mark beside ‘finish first in the EastLink Division' on their list of things they'd like to accomplish this season.
The victory leaves the Bearcats (36-11-1-2) with a two-point edge and a game in hand on the Pictou County Crushers (34-12-0-5) at the top of the division table. Even if the Crushers won their final Maritime Junior Hockey League regular-season tilt and Truro lost both of its final games, the Bearcats would get the nod in the tiebreaker thanks to holding more wins.
"It definitely feels good," Bearcats forward Brandon Boutilier, who was added at the trade deadline and notched the winning goal and added an assist on Saturday, said. "That's why I wanted to come to Truro. Finishing first is definitely something we wanted."
The victory was just how the Bearcats wanted to respond after falling 2-1 to the Yarmouth Mariners in overtime Friday in Yarmouth. The loss was just Truro's third in 20 games since the Christmas break.
But Valley didn't make it easy.
The Bearcats used a pair of third-period tallies, including Boutilier's at 10:14 and an empty-netter from Tyler Morrison with a minute to go, to seal the win.
Former Bearcat Jean-Marc Evans-Renaud, traded for Boutilier, spotted his Wildcats a 1-0 lead 15:32 into the game.
The Bearcats didn't respond until the second period, when Jordan Wentzell and Jacob Smith, with his team-leading 30th goal of the season, gave the Bearcats a 2-1 lead by the 3:25 mark.
Brady Atwater pulled Valley even five minutes later before Brandon Pye gave the Bearcats a 3-2 lead at the midpoint of the frame.
Mike Molloy knotted the contest again 4:57 into the third.
Jacob Fancy made 28 saves for his 21st win of the season while Blade Mann-Dixon stopped 25 in the Valley crease.
Kyle Tibbo recorded three assists to be named the game's first star.
"Valley came hard and it was their best effort against us," Bearcats head coach Shawn Evans said. "But our guys just found a way to win."
Evans credited the victory to a key penalty kill midway through the third period when Boutilier was sent to the penalty box for four minutes with interference and unsportsmanlike conduct infractions.
"I can't say enough about the effort from guys like (Phillip) Fife, Pye, (Daniel) Perigo, (Brandon) Bazinet and the defence," he said. "Those guys did a huge job when we needed them most."
On Saturday, Daniel Poliziani provided the lone Truro tally. Morgan Messenger notched the winner and Braden Mercier scored in regulation for the Mariners, who got 30 saves out of Chase Gaudet. Truro's Chris Festarini stopped 40 shots.
The Bearcats finish the schedule on the road when they travel to Bridgewater to meet the Lumberjacks (4-38-3-4) Friday before stopping in Kentville to take on Valley on Saturday.
NOTES: It doesn't look like Bearcats forward Mitchell Robillard will be ready to return to action to start the Kent Cup playoffs.
A recent visit to the doctor determined the 20-year-old St. Eustache, Que., native will need a couple more weeks to heal the tendons in the wrist he broke on Jan. 18. The Bearcats had initially hoped Robillard, who was tied for third on the team in scoring with 36 points (16G, 20A) in 33 games at the time of the injury, would be able to return to start the postseason.
"It's a setback but we just have to soldier on," Evans said.
Truro native Jeff Hanes returned to the lineup on Friday after missing several weeks with an upper body injury.
On Twitter: @tdnmatt
LAG: INSTANT REPLAY
The outcome: Truro Bearcats 5, Valley Wildcats 3
What it means: Truro clinches first place in the EastLink Division
Season series: Truro leads 7-0
The scorers: Truro - Brandon Boutilier, Tyler Morrison, Brandon Pye, Jordan Wentzell, Jacob Smith; Valley - Brady Atwater, Jean-Marc Evans-Renaud, Mike Molloy
Thre stars: 1. Kyle Tibbo (Truro); 2. Brady Atwater (Valley); 3. Brandon Boutilier (Truro)
Next up: The Bearcats are on the road in Bridgewater Friday at 7 p.m. and Valley Saturday at 6 p.m.