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Tensions rise as Gens push for first place

The Oshawa Generals won back-to-back games over the Kingston Frontenacs on March 11 and 12. Here, Kyle MacLean slips the puck behind Frontenacs goaltender Jeremy Helvig.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Generals

It definitely wasn’t the way the Oshawa Generals hoped to start the weekend, but sweeping the Kingston Frontenacs in a home-and-home series was surely the way they envisioned ending it.

Gens fans at the Tribute Communities Centre on March 10 endured a cringe-worthy performance as the Ottawa 67s completely dominated Oshawa on their way to a 7-0 victory.

For head coach Bob Jones, there wasn’t much to be said in the dressing room after such a game.

“You just obviously got to make some corrections,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot said that night. Emotions are pretty high on all levels, so it’s better to take a little nap and get there in the morning and discuss what went on.”

And the strategy paid off the very next night when a completely different Generals team took to the ice in Kingston. In a rink that Oshawa has notoriously struggled in this season, they were able to sneak out a 3-2 victory with the help of a pair of powerplay goals and an assist on the game-winner from defenceman Medric Mercier. The points pushed Mercier to 50 on the season, more than doubling his production from last season with the Soo Greyhounds.

“It’s been the best,” he says of coming to Oshawa. “In the Soo, I did play on the powerplay a little bit, but here I really got the opportunity and took it and flew away with it.”

On March 12, the series shifted to Oshawa where, in front of 5,800 fans, Oshawa redeemed themselves from Friday’s shellacking by once again defeating the Frontenacs, this time with a 4-2 score.

The victory was led by captain Joe Manchurek`s two goals in the first period. Allan McShane and Kyle MacLean would round out the scoresheet.

For Manchurek, the weekend was a testament to the team’s resilience.

“I think we just don’t give up, we stay with it,” he says. “We lose seven nothing at home and everyone is pretty down, but you sleep on it and wake up the next morning and just ready to start over.”

The two-goal game was Manchurek’s second in recent weeks, having previously scored twice on the road in a 5-2 victory over the Flint Firebirds on March 4. The burst in his performance is perhaps a return to normal levels for Manchurek since coming back from a lower body injury earlier in the season.

“I think his play did struggle,” Jones says. “I think he had a real tough time getting up to game speed, but he’s there now and certainly when he’s at the top of his game he’s a big part of what we do here.”

The loss to Ottawa was also a tough one for goaltender Jeremy Brodeur, who was pulled at the end of the second period after allowing five goals. Despite that, Brodeur got the start in both Kingston games and stopped 45 of 49 shots over the pair of games. He says the win on Saturday was probably the biggest of the weekend.

“When you’re successful in a bounce-back game, it gives you a lot of confidence and then it just resulted in a good weekend for us,” he says.

Now, the Generals will turn their eyes to the remaining three games of the season and that pinnacle of first place, currently held by the Peterborough Petes, who sit four points ahead of Oshawa after losing big to the Erie Otters 7-0 on March 12.

On the home stretch of the season, Oshawa’s final three games will see them face off with the Barrie Colts on March 15, the Ottawa 67s on March 18 and the Petes in the final regular season game on March 19.

A slight advantage could be given to Oshawa, with two of their remaining three games being played on home ice, while the Petes will travel to Ottawa March 15, before hosting the Hamilton Bulldogs at home on March 16 and coming to Oshawa on the 19th.

And while the playoff push drives up the intensity both on and off the ice, Jones says he will not be worried about what other teams are doing, and his eyes will be trained on his team.

“I’m just going to worry about our team and take care of our business,” he says. “If it happens it happens, it would certainly be a credit to those boys in the room, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time.”

The puck will drop at 7:05 p.m. tonight (March 15) as Oshawa takes on the Colts at the Tribute Communities Centre.