Fundy Cobras entertain in junior league debut - Oct. 09, 2013
Blake Ross of the Fundy Cobras tries to make the most of a defensive breakdown in the Fredericton Caps end of the ice, as he is harassed by Caps defender Justin McCarthy-Page.
Presuming the Fredericton Caps are a reasonable example of the play the Fundy Cobras will face as an expansion franchise in the New Brunswick Junior Hockey league, the future for the formative squad looks good – very good.
True, the Cobras fell to the Caps 8-4 in the season and home opener in Blacks Harbour Saturday, but the score doesn’t tell the whole story of a contest where a team that some might have expected to be overpowered by a more seasoned, larger, and veteran squad really wasn’t.
Formed around the core of last year’s successful Fundy Cobras midget AA squad, the level of play of the largely rookie team against the NBJHL’s 2012 junior B championship finalists was in most regards, remarkably balanced.
There were glimpses of promise and signs of future strength on many fronts for the Cobras, not the least of which was the play of Cobras netminder Dan Acheson: the eight goals he yielded do not tell the story of the game.
The key moment of the contest came with two seconds left in the second period and the score tied at three. During an after-the-whistle skirmish, a Cobras’ athlete discovered, too late, that an opponent who appeared willing to engage in a fight had no such intent, which led to seven minutes in penalties for the home side, and in turn led to three Caps power play goals in the early stage of the third period.
That stretch of play was the only part of the game where the visitors truly dominated. Fundy was certainly the better team to start the contest, and deservedly the Cobras held a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Former St. Stephen High School standout Jeff Brown put the Cobras on the board early in the first, then after Anders Blizzard’s shorthanded marker, Brown outfoxed Caps netminder Pat St. Onge on a pass that dribbled into a no-man’s land just beyond the face-off dots. St. Onge unwisely tried to play the puck, but Brown, faster, managed to collect the spoils of an ill-timed poke check and toss the puck into the unguarded net for the Cobras 3-1 lead.
Coaching staff, who said Brown wasn’t feeling well, rested the winger after the first frame, but while present, the former varsity team captain bore all the marks of a potentially dominant force in the league.
He was not the only one: several forays by the Cobras forced the Caps to adapt to the black-clad home squad’s team speed.
The second period, however, yielded to the strength of the veterans within the Caps lineup, veterans who pressured the younger defensive pairings of the Cobras blueline, forcing hurried passes and creating turnovers. It’s a truism that adapting to a higher age or skill level in hockey puts a premium on speed, both physical and mental, and the Caps tested the Cobras on both fronts, en route to netting the two goals that knotted the score at 3-3.
Then came the third period, of which more than six minutes to start the frame were played with the Cobras down a player.
That, however, offered a glimpse of tremendous character in the yet-gelled team. After watching the Caps reel off three power-play goals, the younger, less battle-tested Cobras did not simply wilt – as witnessed by captain Brandon Barrett’s marker with 4:36 left in the contest.
Even by that time, the defence of the Cobras had started to show signs of adapting to the pace of play and need for snappy decisions at the junior level: they battled to the end, to their collective credit.
For all these reasons, the Cobras, though doubled in the team’s first-ever game, have reason for optimism after that contest.
“I’m not disappointed. You never want to lose, but that’s the first game. The guys haven’t been in the dressing room together,” noted assistant Coach Doug Holland.
Holland said he could see little things to work on, but nothing dramatic, as the team begins its march through its first season of play. His primary concerns – energy and fitness – will be addressed with practice and conditioning.
If there’s a gap between the defending junior B finalists and the expansion team, it’s minimal, and moreover, it can be closed, said Barrett, 18.
“Those guys, on that team, have played junior for two, three years. We have a bunch of guys who never played junior before, except one or two,” he reflected, noting the score didn’t tell the story of a relatively close contest.
Barrett said the team clearly belongs in the league, but has to focus on avoiding mistakes.
“We’re going to learn from them: it’s just our first game.”
The Cobras will hit the road for a game against the Hotel Shediac Predators, in what will now – due to the rescheduling of a Sunday road game – becomes the first of a home-and-home series, as the Predators will come to Fundy Arena for the Cobras’ second home game on Oct. 19. The league’s website sets the faceoff at 8 p.m.
Barrett, as he stood gazing out over the Fundy Arena surface, said the team’s first game gave fans – several hundred, many young, who flocked to Fundy Arena to watch a very entertaining on-ice product – something to come back to watch in the future.
“It’s good to have junior back in Blacks.”