by Dante De Caria
Ottawa, Ontario – The Ottawa Jr. Senators finished off the final week of the first-half with a 2-1 record after beating Carleton Place (3-2) on Wednesday and splitting the home-and-home with the Rockland Nationals on Friday (W, 7-2) and Saturday (L, 1-0).
Ottawa was unable to finish the first-half with a win on Saturday as the Nationals came away with the shutout win in front of 351 fans at the Jim Durrell Sports Complex. Since the 2016-17 season, Ottawa had only competed in two 1-0 decisions. The last 1-0 contest, a win for Ottawa, came against the Rockland Nationals and was on December 3rd, 2017.
“This was a playoff atmosphere type of game,” said Ottawa Jr. Senators Head Coach Martin Dagenais following Ottawa’s loss. “I thought we worked hard and I thought we were better tonight (Saturday) than we were on Friday in terms of work ethic.”
Friday’s 7-2 win over the Rockland Nationals saw Ottawa score five goals in the third period, setting a new season high for goals scored in a single frame. Owen Cole scored his first career hat-trick and David Toppa tallied two goals and two assists in his first career four-point effort.
Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Carleton Place turned out to be a very important comeback win for the Senators. Darcy Walsh scored two unanswered goals in the second period to give the Jr. Senators the lead which stayed throughout the third.
The Jr. Senators finish the first-half with an overall record of 25-11-2, fourth place in the CCHL standings with 52 points – just four points out of first place.
Dagenais says that the matchups between the top five teams, Rockland, Brockville, Hawkesbury, Carleton Place, and Ottawa, will decide which team can actually make a run at the first seed in the second half.
“It’s wide open right now, so the matchups between each other will be very important. In the end I think that these games (vs top teams) will make a difference because we know we’re all going to lose against teams that might not make the playoffs. Every top team will drop a few games here and there against weaker opponents. It’s really the games between each other that will make a difference.”
Going into the break, Ottawa is 3-2 vs Rockland, 2-1 vs Carleton Place, 2-1 vs Hawkesbury and 1-2 vs Brockville. Ottawa’s combined record against these top five teams is 8-6. They are 17-5-2 against the rest of the league. The Jr. Senators finished last year’s first-half 31-6-3. That’s just a six win difference from last year.
“We have a different type of team. We only have eight guys left from last year but I think we’re making big strides. If you take the showcase out, we might have the best record in the league right now, and that’s certainly something we expected” added Dagenais.
After going 0-3 in the showcase and 1-4 to start the season, Ottawa is 24-7-2 since. Dagenais credits his assistant coaches for the surprising record, and also the fact that all the players are buying in.
“I keep saying it, but I’m fortunate enough to work with the best support staff in the CCHL. My assistant coaches all bring something different, which is why once the playoff starts, we are not the same team that we were when the season began. You know you have the right staff in place when you see your team improving every month. It also helps that we have a really good bunch of guys in that dressing room.”
“I think we’re going to be a tough opponent in the playoffs, but like the other top teams, we want to finish near the top to have a favorable matchup in the first round. The playoffs are going to be a lot more interesting this year. No matter who we face, nothing will come easy”
Dagenais does think that having players that went through some tough playoff series last season can definitely have a positive impact on the rest of the group.
“I look at guys like Darcy Walsh, Élie Boulerice, Conor Smart, Danny Pion, Ethan Manderville, but also a player like Bailey Brant who flies under the radar because he’s just a steady shutdown defenceman that does his job every night, they all know what the playoffs are about. Adrien Bisson will be key for us in crunch time, and the same can be said about Joe Alexander who recently came back to our team. And with Francis Boisvert in nets, we know we’ll be fine. I also think some of the new guys will impress”
The Ottawa Jr. Senators will play their first of the remaining 24 games of the second half of the season starting on Wednesday, January 9th, at home against the Pembroke Lumber Kings.