Ottawa, Ontario – The Athens Aeros will host the Westport Rideaus in game one of the best of three RIchardson Division Wild Card series on Saturday March 19th 2022 inside the Centre 76 Arena.
Schedule: Athens (25-16-1) vs Westport (20-19-1)
Game 1: Saturday March 19th @ 8:00pm – Centre 76
Game 2: Sunday March 20th @ 7:00pm – Westport Community Arena
Game 3: Tuesday March 22nd @ 7:30pm – Centre 76
The Athens Aeros won five of the six games over Westport Rideaus during the regular season and outscored their opponents 31-to-13 for a goal differential at +28. Athens is the fourth seed and Westport is the fifth seed.
November 6th: Athens 5, Westport 3
December 2nd: Athens 8, Westport 2
December 10th: Westport 2, Athens 1
February 15th: Athens 7, Westport 1
March 2nd: Athens 2, Westport 1 (SO)
March 14th: Athens 8, Westport 4
Athens Keys to Victory:
The Athens Aeros were able to finish the regular with a three game winning streak and had 25 wins over the course of the regular season. Head Coach Michael ‘Bundy’ Seed said that the season was a huge success.
“We feel the season on a whole can be only considered a huge success. After a slower start, we’re very happy with a fourth place finish and a 25 win season. The organization went through a winless season in 2019-2020, we knew we had to retool everything, and I think the organization has done a good job doing that.”
As Seed mention before, Athens didn’t win a single game in the 2020 season and was one of the toughest seasons two years ago. This organization was able to turned it around and have came into a long way to get a playoff spot.
Andrew Sprague had a huge season by collecting 32 goals, 41 assists and 73 points, which sits third in the EOJHL. He also has one more year of junior hockey left as he is only 19 years old. Ty Nicholson was also a leader for Athens by picking up 30 goals, 40 assists and 70 points, which sits fourth in the league. Other big contributors was rookie Rhett Palmer had 50 points in 37 games, Manderson with 39 points and Boyer with 31 points. The offense was big during the league finishing second in goals for with 189 goals.
“Our offense has been a very important component this year to our success. We scored 189 goals throughout the year, good for second most in the league. We’ve been very successful spreading out our scoring. To have two, 70+ guys that play on different lines… shows the depth of our forwards. We roll four lines and that’s been very successful,” said Seed on the offense production from other players.
Athens had a very young D core with a mix of 17 and 18 year old players. The only 19 year old player with experience is Matthew Hudson, who is in his second full season with Athens. He only played 18 games during the season and had five assists. Brett Johnston finished the season with 23 points, Worden with 19 points, Trueman with 15 points. The other defensive core were Ryan Letham, Mac Spinelli and Colton Fenlong.
“Our young D group continues to get better every game. The whole group only had a few junir games under their belt as the season started. They have adapted to the speed and style of play as the season has gone on, since out return to play in February, our D core and team defense as a whole has been very strong,” said Seed on his defense.
Kaleb Griffin is in his final year of junior hockey and had to play in 33 games out of 42 games. It a big work for him this season. He went 19-10, with one shutout, 3.14 GAA / .906 SV%. He will most likely be the started throughout the playoffs.
The keys to victory according to Seed will be disicpline, using our team depth and work ethic.
Athens power play was terrific in the league at 23.3% and their penalty was ranked 10th. So if Athens goes to the power play at some point in this series, they need the depth to step up in that situation because it’s just a three game series.
Westport’s Keys to Victory:
The Westport had 20 wins throughout the season and which no one thought had Westport in the playoffs. Westport had a new head coach and in his first season, Gene Falsetto was very successful in getting his team into the playoffs.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first year coaching junior hockey. I don’t anyone expected a team with two returning players and 13 first year players to finish fifth in the division, so to say I’m proud of this group would be an understanding. This playoff experience will help mold and develop these young kids futures within the Bears organization.
Leading the way offensively was Kyle Dagg, a future Smiths Falls Bears, he picked up 15 goals, 41 assists and 56 points in 39 games. He led all rookies in points and assists in the EOJHL and has the potential to be named Rookie of the year. Connor Craig also led that way with 43 points and Burns had 30 points. Both Denver Craig and Mathieu MacMillan each finished the season with 28 points.
“A big reason why I wanted this job was because of how the ownership group wanted to develop young players. The lines of Dagg, Craig, Boyes and many others have been tremendous throughout the year. I don’t they think they realize how far they have all come as hockey players and young men,” said Falsetto on the development on the young players with the Westport Rideaus.
Speaking of Nathaniel Boyes, he had to appear in 27 out of 40 games. He went 15-11, one shutout, 3.35 GAA / .908 SV% during his first junior season. The other goalie was Evan Malloy, who had to appear in 15 games during the season and finished with a 3.97 GAA / .895SV% with two shutouts.
Westport had 36 power play goals which sits tied for 5th in the EOJHL this season and sixth on the power play at 19.9%. Their penalty kill was only 79.3% in 13th. Special teams will need to be a big factor in this series for Westport in able to win.
“Special teams are always vital in order to win any game or series. That’s just the way the game has changed, so you better be well prepared for the special teams battle,” said Falsetto.
Falsetto says the key to winning this series is playing Rideaus brand of hockey and understand the pressure is on them, not us this series.
The biggest factor in this series could be special teams. Both teams had outstanding power plays during the regular season and both ranked in the top 6. Discipline will be key in the series. Athens will need to use their forward depth in able to win the series. For Westport, they aren’t heavy favourites to win the series, but they will need to play team defense and have amazing goaltending to win the series.