With a shot from the left circle, Austin Lemieux’s third goal of the deciding game of the USPHL Championship was like thunder over the Junior Bruins’ parade.
By Joshua Boyd
Lemieux and the Islanders Hockey Club had their first Dineen Cup championship of their USPHL existence. After a 3-1 Game 1 win, the Islanders came back on March 9 to make it two in a row for the title, beating the Junior Bruins, 4-1.
“The excitement – I don’t really have any words to describe it right now,” said Lemieux, the Arizona State-bound goal-scoring whiz, who just happens to be the son of a hockey legend. He had six goals in six playoff games. “We put a lot of hard work into it. I’m glad we got this done for coach and for everyone.”
Last September, the Islanders Hockey Club didn’t look too scary, going 3-3 out of the gate. From there, the sleeping giant awoke.
The Islanders were unbeaten in regulation throughout October (9-0-1), After a 5-2 November, the Islanders Hockey Club did not lose from Nov. 19 until exactly three months later, Feb. 19. That latter date was the final game of the regular season, a 5-4 defeat against the Philadelphia Flyers junior squad. Between those two L’s were 22 big wins in a row.
It was official pretty much by Thanksgiving 2016 – the Islanders were the team to beat, and only the Flyers could do so and no one else before them or since.
“It feels really good [to win the championship],” said head coach Sean Tremblay. “These guys have been the No. 1 team since probably the third part of the season, and they never looked back.”
The Islanders Hockey Club won all six of their playoff games, starting with two against the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders.
“The guys did their job. They were very focused from the get-go,” said Tremblay. “They had to take care of P.A.L. The first game’s 9-1. It’s hard to come back after a game [like that], and we beat them, 3-2,” added Tremblay. “The [Springfield] Pics had momentum and emotion after beating the Hitmen. People were giving them maybe too much credit, maybe thinking it wouldn’t happen again. We did a great job shutting them down in the first game 3-1, and opening it up in the second game, 8-2.”
The Junior Bruins’ Dallas Ferrell scored the first goal of the series, but the Islanders had been down before in these playoffs. They came back from being down 2-0 to the P.A.L. Islanders and came back to win, 3-2.
Lemieux started the Islanders Hockey Club scoring in Game 1 of the finals, and Lucas Michaud and Daniil Sokolka popped in the next two for the comeback win.
“This team is just extremely strong. I was very confident in their ability to make the plays,” said Tremblay. “They played without fear. I didn’t think they were tentative at any point, even today.”
Lemieux started Game 2 with a rocket from the point. Later, the tick-tock-toe combination of Austin Goldstein to Michaud to Lemieux cashed in for a 2-0 lead. And then, of course, was the aforementioned hat trick goal for a 3-1 lead.
“I was just lucky enough to be in the right spots,” said Lemieux. “I have great players around me. To [score a hat trick] in this game is just huge.”
Lemieux was really impressed with how his teammates just continued to gut out winning efforts, despite the bumps and bruises of playoff hockey.
“There are a lot of injuries. No one’s 100 percent in the playoffs,” added Lemieux. “We don’t play 60-70 games, but we still take a toll on our bodies. It’s good to get this time to relax.”
Mike Falanga scored the extra-insurance goal for the 4-1 win, coming in alone and scoring on a wraparound.
“I give the Bruins a lot of credit. They battled back and made it 2-1,” Tremblay said. “Once we got that fourth goal, you just see the emotion in our guys. The legs were back, there was just going to be no stopping them at that point. It’s not often you can sweep a series against the Junior Bruins, ever.”
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