With the favourites going 0-2 in the opening round and at least one more higher-ranked team on the verge of elimination, being the No. 1 seed might not be all it's cracked up to be.
The fun started in earnest last week as the New Liskeard Cubs put the wheels in motion, sending the Kapuskasing Flyers to the sidelines with a 3-2 win. Calvin Chartrand snapped a 2-2 tie, scoring on the power play with 8:12 to play as the Cubs took the best-of-three-quarter-final two games to one.
Gabriel Rheault and Marshal Nikitin also scored for New Liskeard, with Kezmin Madden answering with both goals for Kapuskasing. The Flyers had finished third in league play, posting a regular season record of 16-14-0-0, well ahead of the cellar-dwellars from New Liskeard (9-20-1-0).
It was a somewhat similar pattern in the remaining quarter-final set as the fifth-place Timmins Majors used an overtime goal from Brett Andrews to bounce the fourth-place Nickel City Sons from the playoffs.
Wayne Mathieu and Dillan Bruce had found their way on to the scoresheet, for the Majors, earlier in the game, with Alain Sicard and Sheldon Lalonde balancing the scoreboard for the Sons.
With the two lowest seeds moving on, things seemed easy for the top two.
Sudbury did nothing to deter that mindset on Saturday night at home, jumping out to a 2-0 first-period lead and scoring the final three goals in a 5-2 win over New Liskeard.
Jeff Delange enjoyed a two-goal performance to lead the way for the Nickel Capital Wolves, with solo tallies from Caleb Boman, Jackson Gunner and Bradley Sutton capping things off. Justin Brazeau and Brendon Jacksic replied for the visitors.
Come Sunday afternoon, things were different. Backstopped by a 41-save effort from goaltender Randy Beauchamp, the Cubs blanked the Wolves 3-0, with goals from Ryan Murdoch, Maxime Beaulac and Alexi Rivet providing more than enough offensive support.
"We played a little different style today," said New Liskeard head coach Dan McDonald after the win. "We tried to push the pace on them. I think we sat back and we were a bit overwhelmed in Game 1. We haven't won in this rink in years."
And, as many coaches know, it's not always easy to recharge the energy level for a team coming off one upset victory already.
"It's a challenge for the coaching staff, not to have the guys just be satisfied with making it to the second round," stated McDonald.
"We were probably caught yesterday with being a little too content with just being here."
The up-tempo contest, which featured only six minor penalties in total, was completed in just an hour and 49 minutes, as the Cubs executed their game plan to perfection.
"We played an aggressive style and forced their defence to make quick decisions," said McDonald. "In this league, if you do that, you will force mistakes. We played a good game, and obviously, our goalie played great and stood on his head."
Sudbury outshot New Liskeard 41-26 as the teams now prepare for the series shift to the Tri-Towns. Sudbury will visit New Liskeard on Friday night for an 8 p.m. puckdrop, with Game 4 slated for the very next evening at 8 p.m.
Battling injuries, the second-place North Bay Trappers are in even worse shape than Sudbury, trailing their series with Timmins two games to none. The Majors kept right on rolling along Saturday in North Bay, defeating the homeside 4-1 as Bruce and Mathieu were joined on the scoresheet by Harley McWatch and Adam Kvas.
Sudbury Wolves' prospect Michael Silveri had opened the scoring with the only goal of the first period before all-star netminder Devon Debastos shut the door for the visitors.
The Majors doubled their series lead on Sunday when Kvas scored just 1:19 into overtime, lifting Timmins past North Bay 4-3. Bailey Boucher netted a pair of goals for the winners, with Calvin Naveau tallying short-handed, while Nathaniel McLeod, with two, and Josh Ibbitson countered for the Trappers.
Timmins will have the opportunity to advance to their first league championship final in several years (likely back to the Hunter Tremblay era), hosting North Bay on Saturday night at 9 p.m. at the McIntyre Arena, and again on Sunday at 5 p.m., at the same location, if necessary.