TRURO -The only thought on the minds of the Truro Bearcats during drive home from St. Jerome, Que., was ‘what if.'
The Bearcats felt they had a team capable of winning a second consecutive Fred Page Cup Eastern Canadian junior A hockey title, but instead had bronze medals hanging from their necks on the bus ride back to the Hubtown.
"Definitely not good," Bearcats defenceman Jordan McNaughton said about the team's 5-2 loss to the host St. Jerome Panthers in Saturday's semifinal. "I think we could have done better, that we should have done better. We had the potential, but things didn't go our way and we ended up on the short end."
The setback brought an end to the season for the Maritime Junior Hockey League champions while the Panthers went on to face the Ontario champion Carleton Place Canadians in Sunday's final. Carleton Place won the contest 3-1.
The Bearcats finished the five-day event with a 1-3 record. The Bearcats fell 2-1 in their final round-robin game against the Canadians - which sent the winner straight to the final - after falling 7-6 on Thursday to the hosts. Truro opened with a 5-4 win over the Granby Inouk.
The Bearcats fell into a 3-0 hole by the mid-point of the second period before McNaughton got Truro on the board. Nicolas Dionne restored St. Jerome's three-goal cushion early in the third before Colby Lanceleve scored for Truro.
Samuel Aquin sealed Truro's fate with a minute and a half remaining.
Chris festarini made 35 saves in the Truro crease while Phillippe Gingras stopped 28 in the St. Jerome net.
Benjamin Laliberte, Pier-Olivier Grand-Maison and gary Horic also scored for the Panthers.
The Bearcats finished the MHL season on a blazing run of 19 wins in their final 22 regular-season games. Truro then blasted through the league playoffs with just two losses - both in the final to the Dieppe Commandos after sweeping the Pictou County Crushers and Valley Wildcats.
Their play had the Bearcats feeling they had an excellent chance to repeat as regional champs and book a ticket to the RBC Cup national championship May 10-18 in Vernon, B.C. That's what makes thei early exit from the Fred Page a tough pill to swallow.
"Going in we thought we had a really good shot," McNaughton said. "We played a good game against Carleton but lost 2-1 and things didn't fall into place."
McNaughton said the Bearcats got away from what made them successful all season and it cost them.
"We weren't forechecking," he said. "For a team that won the (Young-Knickle) award for the league's lowest goals-against, we allowed four goals in our first game and six in our second. It was unacceptable and it led to us not winning."