The Bayshore Boys of summer are headed to the playoffs.
After a monotonous 2018 season, an injection of youth has the North Stars back firmly in the win column and the top-eight of the Ontario junior B circuit’s Western Conference.
Their reward is a first-round best-of-five series against the Hamilton Bengals.
The same Bengals that outscored the North Stars 26-8 through two regular season games. The same Bengals that finished second in the conference in goals scored and second in the conference in goals against.
The same Bengals with the league’s best power play.
On paper, the North Stars postseason reward doesn’t exactly sound like party favours and pinatas.
Then again, Owen Sound has ripped up paper projections all season long, even those from their own bench bosses.
“It totally surpassed what we were hoping, and we beat some good lacrosse teams this year. It wasn’t like we were just beating the lower-end teams,” said general manager Brad Caskenette.
When the North Stars hosted the Bengals on May 11 – an 11-6 loss – Brady Lisk was in net and Hamilton went four-for-eight with the man advantage – including three power-play goals in a 5-1 second-period blowout.
“When you go a man down most good lacrosse teams can put the ball in the net and make you pay,” said Caskenette. “If we can keep our heads in the game and not take unnecessary penalties, I think five-on-five we’re not bad against them.”
On May 26, the North Stars travelled to Hamilton a day after drumming the Wallaceburg Red Devils in Owen Sound and barely got off the bus losing 15-2.
“I think we had a lot of tired kids at that point,” Caskenette said.
Hamilton once again popped in four power-play goals, this time by North Stars starting goalie Kaleb Martin.
The game plan for the North Stars heading into Saturday’s opener in the Steeltown is to shut down the Bengals scorers, stay out of the box, and turn opportunities into goals.
“We need to hammer away at them and take our opportunities. We’re going to rely on some of our transition players to help us put some goals on the board, and then hopefully our defenders can shut their offence down,” Caskenette said.
The North Stars scouting report is that the Bengals don’t like to play from behind and can get frustrated.
“We have to get at them early, I think that’s the key … they’re the type of team that when they get down they can’t really fight back,” Caskenette said.
Easier said than done, perhaps. Luke Robinson led the Bengals with 57 goals in just 16 games while Tye Argent notched 96 points. Both players finished in the Top-10 of league scoring.
“Those guys can hurt you from anywhere. With Robinson, he likes to shoot, we have to be diligent and get out on his hands early in the game. He will get frustrated, he is that type of player,” Caskenette said. “We need to put our best defenders on those two guys definitely, and make the other guys hurt us if they have to.”
The North Stars are hoping team captain Dustin Lantz is available to help the cause of shutting down the top-tier Bengals’ scorers. Lantz suffered an ankle injury late in the season and is a “game day” decision.
Other than that, the North Stars are “all hands on deck” according to Caskenette.
“I think we’re pretty strong defensively. As long as our guys don’t miss assignments and play their positions right we have a pretty good chance of shutting those guys down,” he said.
It’s been a season of exceeding expectations as a young team came into its own. In fact, Caskenette said the youth movement even drove the return of helpful veteran players.
“A lot of the younger guys stepped up and bought into what we were trying to teach them,” he said. “Even the older guys who we ended up getting back, they were pumped because of the performance of these younger guys and their desire to win. It’s nothing short of amazing to me.”
Caskenette and head coach Jamie Grimoldby have coached most of the North Stars players in the minor lacrosse system and through the high school field lacrosse program.
He said all the players have bought into putting the team first, and it is showing on the floor. The next part of the team’s ongoing education would be a playoff series win.
“If we take one in Hamilton then we come back to Owen Sound up a game, that’s the plan,” he said. “It’s exciting for the future of that team to see what they have and what they can build on. It’s a lot of good athletes and not a lot of attitudes.”