The Napanee Joyce’s Meat and Deli Atom BB Stars are OMHA provincial champions after defeating the Erin-Hillsbourgh Devils 6-2 on the road in Game 3 of the series on Sunday.
The victory capped a perfect 12-0 playoff run for Napanee, which was proceeded by a flawless 23-0 record in the regular season.
Closing out the series wasn’t easy however, as the Stars had to battle a tough team on the road, doing so without their captain and leading scorer Matthew Airhart, who was called for a boarding penalty in Game 2 and unavailable for Sunday.
With their backs against the wall and home crowd behind them, the Devils came out flying early in Game 3.
“We had to whether a storm like we hadn’t seen all year,” said Stars head coach Mike Airhart. “We didn’t have the puck out of our zone for the first three to four minutes. Jack Godfrey our goalie stood on his head and made a bunch of big saves, probably facing six to eight shots in those first three to four minutes. We got our feet underneath us and we started to push back.”
Once the Stars got rolling, they were just too much for the Devils and held on to clinch the OMHA championship.
To set up the ability to clinch on Sunday, the Stars won at home on Saturday 5-1 to take the 2-0 series lead.
Malcolm McCaw tallied first from a goalmouth scramble, after a feed from behind the net. Drew Osborne and Wyatt Whalen drew assists. In the second frame, Matthew Airhart cruised over the blueline and sent a backhand over the goalie’s blocker. Wyatt Albright missed on a penalty shot, but shortly after that, Ben Kerr took a pass from Matthew Airhart in the goal mouth to score. Matthew Airhart made it 4-1 after some poor clearing by their opponents, allowing Kerr to feed Albright who set up Matthew Airhart.
Kohen Cutler rounded out the scoring with an empty net goal.
The locals controlled much of the play, with shots on goal favouring the Stars 33-16. Godfrey got the win between the pipes.
“We had two goalies who played a good chunk with Jack and Caleb (Scrimshaw).” Coach Airhart said of their playoff run. “Jack ended up playing more at the end but we split them up as much as we could coming through. We played some really good teams. Collingwood’s a good team, Lyndsay’s a really good team and Erin-Hillsborough is a really good team. Our kids really stepped up.”
Facing the adversity of playing without their captain and leading scorer was nothing new for the Stars, who had shown an ability to rally together as a team when missing some of their key players. That was a message Airhart and the coaching staff had really focused on at the start of the season.
“There will be times when you guys are playing and you’re going to be missing a kid,” Coach Airhart said of his pre-season talk. “At the end of the day you step up your game because as you get older you’re going to have injuries, suspensions, sickness, stuff like that. You just have to elevate your game that much more to keep winning.”
Prior to the season the team also set some lofty goals, with the intent to win the Andy McGarvey Memorial Tournament, qualify for an International Silver Stick and then capture an OMHA title. Sunday’s win allowed them to meet all those goals.
“We had an unreal group of kids this year,” said Airhart. “They listened, they bought in, they worked hard. There were some ups and downs over the course of the year but I’ve never seen such a group that got together and got along as well as this group. It was a lot of fun to coach.”
The Stars will see four of their players eligible to return the atom level next year with the rest graduating to peewee where they’ll join a solid core of returning players as they look to repeat as provincial champions.