Lumberjacks hope their winning ways will put Bridgewater ‘on the map’

by Stacey Colwell

For the first time in franchise history, the South Shore Lumberjacks are on the verge of being ranked as one of Canada's top 20 junior A teams.

"It's been a good run so far and hopefully it doesn't slow down because we've still got a lot of work to do," said coach Kyle McAllister after the 'Jacks earned an honourable mention in last week's CJHL rankings.

"We are hoping this will be something that's sustainable and competitive long term, not just one year at a time. We have the right people here to do that," said McAllister of the Bridgewater-based club.

"We hope to put this town and the area on the map, sports wise."

Last season, the 'Jacks finished with a disappointing 17-30-3 record.

"We struggled a bit last year, but we made some trades with a long term goal in mind. But I think now with the guys we kept and players we brought in we're starting to see the pay off from the short-term pain we went through."

Still, he's relieved that the blueprint the club laid out is showing results.

"Once you put it together you never really know if it's going to work out or if it's going to backfire. The expectations going into this season - and I haven't been shy about saying it - is we're going to be a team that competes for it all this year."

However, the 'Jacks began 2017-18 with a pair of losses on a weekend road trip to New Brunswick.

"That was a good wake up call," said McAllister, adding the players are learning the good habits they develop in practice are directly related to game success.

"It's been the biggest process - being able to come to the rink every day, practice with pace and intensity, and know you have to come to the rink ready to work if you want to be successful. We'll still take off a game or a period here and there, and we'll see bad habits creep back in, but we're constantly on top of that and we're overcoming that to a degree."

Following those two early losses, the Lumberjacks reeled off 10 wins in 11 games, including a three-game sweep of a second New Brunswick road trip to run their winning streak to seven games through October 22.

After 13 games, the team not only lead the league in points, but had the most goals for and fewest goals against while outscoring opponents 50-24.

In addition, the net-minding duo of MacKenzie Janes (5-0 with 1.17 goals against average and a .960 save percentage) and Conor McCollum (2.47 GAA, .920 SV per cent) has shone while the pair split time in the crease.

"The goaltending has been unbelievable," said McAllister.

"As a player, when you play in front of two goaltenders you have confidence in, it makes your whole team confident. We've got a good problem on our hands with basically two numbers ones right now."

On offence, 18-year-old Logan O'Neil had nine goals and 17 points through his first 13 games and has been selected to represent the Lumberjacks at the Eastern Canada Cup all-star challenge.

"He plays with a lot of confidence and skill. He's probably one of the best natural shooters in the league," said McAllister. "I'm not surprised where he's at. We had high expectations for him and weren't even sure we'd get him back from [Major Junior]."

Still, with forward Aiden Casey out with a broken hand and the power play not clicking yet, McAllister thinks the team can be even more dangerous.

"I don't think we're where we're going to be offensively. I'm happy with the amount of goals we're scoring, but I think we've got even more firepower up front."

The Lumberjacks were scheduled to play three games in three days last week, and return home to the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre for a match versus Pictou County on November 3.

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