Truro uses hot second half to finish first overall in MHL
TRURO - It was something they wanted, and they went out and got it.
The Truro Bearcats (38-11-1-2) laid claim to the Maritime Junior Hockey League's President's Cup for the best regular-season record Saturday thanks to an 8-1 thumping of the Valley Wildcats (19-28-4-1) in front of 350 fans at Kentville's Centennial Arena.
Truro's 79 points actually placed them in a tie with the Miramichi Timberwolves (37-10-0-5) but the Bearcats had the edge in the tiebreaker with one more victory than Miramichi.
"It was huge," Bearcats forward Brandon Bazinet, who struck for four goals on Saturday, said. "Valley came out hard but we stayed focused. It was like a Game 7 we wanted it so bad and we were able to come out on top."
It marks the first time the Truro Bearcats have finished atop the 11-team heap since the 2006-07 season. That year, Truro went on to the Kent Cup league title, defeating the Summerside Western Capitals in the final.
Truro's 38-win total ties last year's Fred Page Cup winning squad and misses last season's points total of 81 by just two.
So how did they do it?
Well 19 wins in Truro's final 22 games was a big help. The impressive run helped the Bearcats erase an eight-game deficit to the Pictou County Crushers at the Christmas beak to leapfrog their Mount Thom rivals for top spot in the EastLink Division, then run down the Timberwolves in the final weeks of the schedule to top the overall table.
"Everybody just stepped up," Bazinet, an 18-year-old native of Sudbury, Ont., said. "Everybody played their role, the defence played great, the forwards were great, the goaltending was great. Everybody just picked up their game because we wanted it so bad and we worked hard for it."
"It's a huge honour to be able to say you're the regular season champions."
Bearcats coach Shawn Evans said his players should be proud.
"There's a lot of really good teams in our league," he said. "Some people will downplay it, but it's a banner our team gets to keep. Every team would like to accomplish it and I'm glad we did."
It wasn't all roses for the Bearcats during that second-half run. Truro hoping forward Mitchell Robillard, can return to the lineup soon. He went down on Jan. 18 with a broken wrist while tied for third on the team in scoring with 36 points (16G, 20A) in 33 games at the time of the injury.
Forwards Jeff Hanes and Bazinet also missed time with upper body injuries.
But what Evans liked most about his team is the killer instinct it showed when it got to within striking distance of top spot in both the division and the league.
"Once we controlled our own fate we didn't give anything back," Evans said. "The players got the job done and they earned it."
Although they're proud of what they've accomplished, the Bearcats are a bunch of realists. They know nothing is going to be handed to them on Saturday when they open the playoffs against the winner of the best-of-three mini series between the Wildcats and Yarmouth Mariners. That series gets underway tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Yarmouth.
"What we've done doesn't mean anything in the playoffs," Bazinet said. "We have to get prepared for the new season because it's going to be a battle. It doesn't matter who we get matched up with, the other team is gong to push us and we have to be ready to come out and do what we can do."
NOTES: Bazinet was announced Sunday as the ;eague's third star of the week. Bazinet's four-goal night Saturday was complimented with a goal and an assist on Friday in a 5-3 win over the Bridgewater Lumberjacks. He finished the season with 36 points (14G, 22A) in 46 games.
Also on Sunday, Bearcats forward Kyle Tibbo was named the league's rookie of the month. In 14 games since Feb. 1, Tibbo has four goals and 10 assists.
The 17-year-old Conception Bay South, Nfld., native also buried six points in Truro's final three regular season contests to finish the season fifth in team scoring with 48 points (21G, 27A) in 52 games.
On Twitter: @tdnmatt
FLAG: INSTANT REPLAY
A snapshot look at Saturday's MHL game between the Truro Bearcats and Valley Wildcats:
The outcome: Truro Bearcats 8, Valley Wildcats 1
What it means: The Bearcats clinch first overall at (38-11-1-2), Valley falls to (19-28-4-1)
Season series: Truro wins 8-0
The scorers: Truro - Brandon Bazinet (4), Jordan McNaughton, Kyle TibboTyler Morrison, Brandon Pye; Valley - Duncan McKie
Three stars: 1. Brandon Bazinet (Truro); 2. Jordan McNaiughton (Truro); 3. Brandon Boutilier (Truro)
Next up: The Bearcats open the playoffs Saturday at RECC against the winner of the mini series between the Yarmouth Mariners and Valley Wildcats