The Halifax Lions’ season is over, and it couldn’t have ended in a much more abrupt, heart-wrenching fashion.
Dan Joyce beat the buzzer with the game-winning goal with just seven seconds left in regulation to lift the Pictou County Weeks Crushers to a 4-3 win over the Lions before a crowd of 1,123 at the Forum last night.
Joyce’s goal, a low hard shot from inside the blue line, gave the Crushers a six-game win in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League’s Bent Division best-of-seven semifinal.
“Seven seconds left and one squeaked by,” said Lions captain Robbie Veriker outside a dejected dressing room afterward.
“That’s how quick a series can turn and end for you.”
Justin Belanger and Tanner Manson scored for the Lions in the second period before the Crushers battled back to tie it before the end of the frame. The score stayed deadlocked at 2-2 until a dramatic final three minutes.
Sean Hoyt put Pictou County up on a shorthanded breakaway with 2:49 remaining but it was Ben Clarke on the same power play who tied it back up just 67 seconds later for Halifax.
The Lions lost the final three games after grabbing an early 2-1 series lead.
“One minute we were up in the series, the next minute, we were down, and the next day, it’s over,” Veriker said.
“There’s not much you can say after a series like that.”
Joyce ended a night of frustration for the Crushers.
They struck iron a half-dozen times behind Lions goalie Kody Blois, who finished with 43 saves.
But the young Lions — who hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2006-07 when the franchise was located in Antigonish — were pleased with their effort as a seven-point underdog.
“For an inexperienced team to play against a team like that and battle and compete, we did a pretty good job,” said Lions head coach Troy Ryan.
The majority of the Lions’ roster is eligible to return next season, and Veriker — one of the few without eligibility remaining — sees a bright future.
“I’m sure they’re going to go a lot further next year,” he said.