Eight of the Tillsonburg Horizon Seeds atom rep hockey players experienced OMHA BB finals at the novice level.
The rest are eager to begin against Midland this weekend, and Horizon Seeds coach Trevor Lamb said the first-time OMHA finalists on the team are "working their tails off to bring home a championship."
Friday's series-winning semifinal game in Port Elgin was an afternoon tilt, which worked out because it was a school PA Day. Tillsonburg won 4-2, scoring twice in the first and twice in the second. Port Elgin got one back in the second, and another early in the third.
"It wasn't too bad, for the distance we travelled, and it being the first day of March Break," said Horizon Seeds atom coach Trevor Lamb. "We didn't play too bad. Maybe it wasn't our strongest effort, but enough to win it. I think we had played better earlier in the series."
The win gave Tillsonburg a 7-1 lead in the six-point series with three wins and a tie (in the series opener). And it was the tie, said Lamb, that was by far one of their strongest games.
"One of those playoff situations when a goalie can steal a game for you. And their goalie almost stole that game. I think we outshot them 3-1 or 4-1, something like 48-12."
Jack Main and Conner Roberts scored third-period goals to give Tillsonburg a 3-2 lead, but Saugeen Shores scored with 3:24 left to tie it up.
"I think we pretty much dominated that game, we were all over them in their end, just couldn't anything past him."
Being a young team, the majority of the Horizon Seeds atoms are first-year atoms playing against second-years.
"They're doing a fantastic job, holding their own, and gaining that experience. They went through it all last year as second-year novices winning OMHAs, Silver Stick, tournaments... so they have that experience – they want to win. This year's group of kids does not like to lose.
"We've taken our fair share of losses this year, and it makes them want to work harder to win, and achieve their goals."
As a team, they didn't set OMHA BB finals as their goal. Coaches wanted the atoms to work hard and get better every time they stepped on the ice, whether it was a practice or a game.
"Just to get better individually and for them to gel as a team. I think they've succeeded. They've achieved what they want to do individually and as a team. For myself, they exceeded my expectations."
The coaches tried not to put too much pressure on them, setting the bar at North American Silver Stick championships or OMHA finals.
"We just wanted them to go out and have some fun, and get better every time they stepped out on the ice."
Midland eliminated Port Hope in the other BB semifinal.
"It'll be a tough series," said Lamb. "They've played some really good hockey this year. So we have to be on our toes and ready to play."
The championship series opens in Tillsonburg March 15 and 16 with back-to-back games at the Kinsmen Memorial Arena (3 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday). The six-point series will continue in Midland the following weekend, returning to Tillsonburg on March 29 for Game 5 if necessary.
"It's just a great group of kids and they've all gelled together as a team," Lamb summed up. "They want to do it, not only for themselves, but for everybody who's in that dressing room, who've worked their tails off, too."
OMHA BB semifinals
Feb. 28: Tillsonburg 3, Saugeen Shores 3
March 1: Tillsonburg 5, Saugeen Shores 4
March 2: Tillsonburg 3, Saugeen Shores 1
March 7: Tillsonburg 4, Saugeen Shores 2