A great season came to a difficult end, as the Vankleek Hill Cougars fell 7-4 to the Gatineau-Hull Volant in Game 5 of the back-and-forth National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) series between the two evenly-matched teams.

The Cougars – buoyed by an estimated 300 cheering fans who made the trip to the Slush Puppie Centre in Gatineau – took a 4-3 lead eight minutes into the third period, but the Volant came back with two goals less than a minute apart late in the third. A pair of empty-net goals by former Cougar Jérémy Marcotte sealed the series for Gatineau-Hull.

“I’m really disappointed,” said Cougars Head Coach Franky Dopelhamer the morning after the loss. “It was a close game, but we did not play well.”

“It’s hockey – it doesn’t always go the way you wish it would go.”

Things were looking bright for Vankleek Hill early in the game, as the Cougars jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Eric Skyba and Mikael Bissonette. But Gatineau-Hull tied the game before the period ended and the two teams traded goals in the second frame.

Thomas Kelly got Cougars’ fans on their feet when he gave Vankleek Hill a 4-3 lead eight minutes into the third, before Gatineau-Hull cued the comeback with two goals less than a minute apart. Gatineau-Hull will face the first place South Grenville Rangers in one of two NCJHL semi final series.

Dopelhamer said he was most disappointed for fans of the Cougars, who turned out en masse throughout the series to support the team, both at home and on the road.

“They were amazing,” said Dopelhamer of the team’s fan base. “Even when we won the cup, the crowds weren’t as massive as now.”

“The people who followed us for all three games in Gatineau, you’re talking hundreds of people – it’s unreal. When we scored, the cheering was amazing.”

Fan support was strong throughout the 2022-2023 season, for the Cougars, who played all of their home games at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex in Hawkesbury while the Vankleek Hill Community Centre was being renovated. The Cougars will be back playing at their home barn for the 2023-2024 season and expect the large crowds to continue in their new/old home.

There should be a strong team to cheer for next year as well. The Cougars are losing four 21-year-old players, but the core group of this year’s talented team will be returning.

On a personal note, it was a true honor to work with the Vankleek Hill Cougars this year as their statistician. I’m disappointed we didn’t go further, but very proud to be a part of the team.

Clarence Castors beat Morrisburg 8-2 to win series

The Clarence Castors avoided an NCJHL quarterfinal upset when they beat the Morrisburg Lions 8-2 in Game 5 at the Clarence Creek Recreation Centre on Wednesday (March 8).

The Castors, who finished second in the NCJHL regular season standings, found themselves with their hands full against the seventh place Lions, as the teams split the first four games of the series.

But the Castors made sure on Wednesday that the upset would not happen, jumping out to the 5-0 first period lead on their way to the convincing 8-2 final score. Shane Morris earned the win in net for Clarence.

Clarence took a two games to none lead over the North Dundas Rockets in the first two games of the NCJHL semi finals, winning the first two games of the series last weekend 4-2 and 5-4 (OT). Meanwhile Gatineau-Hull and South Glengarry split the first two games of their series.

Clarence will host Game 3 of the series against North Dundas this Thursday. Game time is 8:20 p.m.