If ever the Pembroke Lumber Kings needed a win, it was on the final night of their regular season. Closing out their 2019-20 campaign in front of one of the largest crowds of the season, the Kings were facing the Rockland Nationals. Both teams knew this would be a playoff appetizer as they would be meeting in the first round of the Central Canada Hockey League playoffs.
The Nationals had put together a fine season, compiling a record of 39 wins, 19 losses and 4 losses in either overtime or a shootout. The team’s 82 points allowed them to win the Yzerman Division and finish second in the overall league standings, trailing only Carleton Place. By contrast, the Kings finished with 15 points fewer than the Nationals, putting up a record of 32 wins, 27 losses and 3 overtime losses for 67 points and a seventh place overall finish.
The need for the Lumber Kings to win in that season finale went beyond gaining some momentum going into the playoffs. For the Kings, it was about proving that they could beat the Nationals. You see, the season series was dominated by Rockland. The Nationals at times beat up on the Kings, thrashing them 8-2 and 10-1 and adding 5-2 and 3-1 wins, but on the final night of the season, the Kings pulled off a spirited 4-3 win on a late goal by an unlikely source, Anthony Urbisci, who scored only five goals all season long.
So what does this all mean as these two teams prepare to battle? It simply means the Lumber Kings have built some confidence as they prepare to take on a Rockland club that has a lot of skill and speed. For the Kings to beat them, they will need contributions from everyone, but particularly their veteran players who have competed in the playoffs previously like Sam Allison, Jacob Shankar and leading scored Fletcher Anderson.
Brandon Cianflone, who scored twice in the season finale against Rockland, Cameron Hough and Dennis Golovatchev all bring major junior experience to the series for Pembroke, and Brady Egan will be called upon to add some offence after scoring 29 goals in the regular season. Golovatchev has one more game to sit on the sidelines as he completes a five game suspension and by the time game two rolls around, he should have lots of pent up energy built up.
But if Pembroke is going to win this series and a lot would have to go right for an upset to occur, rookie goaltender Reece Proulx, will need to be at the top of his game. He was outstanding during the regular season and logged a staggering 3,020 minutes between the pipes. The Kings wisely rested him in the final game of the season after he had a save percentage of .940 and a goals against average of 2.94, strong enough to place him on the CCHL’s all rookie team for 2019-20.
Proulx has faced a lot of rubber this season. As the Kings battled injuries, they often played games without a full line-up and were badly outshot. They also spent a lot of time in the penalty box, leading the league in penalty minutes with 1,141 minutes. By comparison, Rockland was the second least penalized team in the league with out 888 minutes. Spending to much time in the penalty box would pose a problem for the Kings, as the Nationals powerplay connected on 19.2 percent of their chances this season. Pembroke’s powerplay was at time streaky, going through cold and red hot spurts and finishing with a respectable 16.9 percent success rate.
When it comes to goal scoring and defensive play, the Nationals not surprisingly have a significant advantage. Rockland scored 254 goals in the regular season compared to Pembroke’s 187 goals. The Nationals allowed 183 goals while the Kings gave up 215. On paper, the table tilts to the Nationals, but this is the playoffs when anything can happen, especially in Pembroke where the Lumber Kings have a rich history and hold a league best 14 CCHL championships.
Ask Rockland Assistant Coach, Luc Chabot, what its like to play in Pembroke in the playoffs. He spent four season with the Lumber Kings in the 1980’s winning several championships as the league’s most prolific scorer. Now, for the first time in his playing or coaching career, he steps back into the famed Pembroke Memorial Centre, trying to win a playoff game for the road team. No doubt, both the Nationals and Kings coaches will have their teams ready. It’s showtime!