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Avon River Rats to begin playoffs with Spryfield Feb. 24

WINDSOR, N.S. — The Avon River Rats were forced to settle for second place at the conclusion of the Nova Scotia Regional Junior Hockey League's regular season.

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The hometown team lost 2-1 to the Metro Jaguars in the team’s 30th and final regular season game.

The River Rats finished the season with a 22-6-2 record compared to the Jaguars' 24-6-0.

Avon River Rats head coach Matt Lyttle said while the coaching staff was disappointed in the loss, they were not upset with the team's effort all season.

“Our last game of the regular season was our best game of the season I thought,” Lyttle said. “We didn’t end up getting the result we wanted, but pleased with the way the boys battled for 60 min.”

The Jaguars took a 1-0 lead before Jordan Spence tied it early in the second. The Metro team scored what would be the game winner with 40 seconds remaining in the second. The River Rats outshot Metro 47-30.

"In saying that, the only thing on our minds is playoffs,” said Lyttle.

“This is the real season. We got in and now we're focused on our first round match up with Spryfield. They are a fast, skilled team that can burn you if you're not on your game,” said Lyttle.

“We will need to play exactly the way we did in our last game if we want to have success in the playoffs. That's what hockey will be like for us from here on out.”

Due to their top place finishes, the Jaguars and River Rats both earned first round byes in the playoffs.

The River Rats will face off against the Spryfield Attack in a Best of Seven league semi-final beginning this week.

The Attack eliminated the Bedford Wolverines in an opening round Best of Five series last week.

The Attack is a team that the River Rats beat in all six regular season contests, outscoring them 25-18. Five of the six games saw the River Rats win by a single goal, including a 4-3 win in a shoot-out. The only game not decided by a single goal was a 6-4 win.


Strong performers

Lyttle said Stuart Whidden and Allister Avard have shown up to play each and every night the River Rats take the ice.

“I expect that out of them. They’re two of our over-age leaders that have been with the team over the past few seasons and definitely understand what playoff hockey is about,” said Lyttle, adding Logan Cleveland is also a very reliable performer on the ice.

“These three have been a dominant presence up the middle for us this year,” said Lyttle.

Whidden led the team in scoring, connecting for 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points. Avard scored 15 times and collected eight assists for 23 points while Cleveland netted 18 and helped out on 13 others for 31 points.

“All of our games in the playoffs will be close... whether we have the lead or we're down,” said Lyttle. “We need to just play. We can’t be too high if we're up or low if we're down. Focus on our game and compete every shift, I think the results will come if we do that.”

Carter McMullin is the starting goaltender and Kyle Armsworthy is their back up. Lyttle is pleased by the performance of both netminders.

"Carter has been a key addition for us after coming from Liverpool and has played very well for us down the stretch, picking up big wins and posting some solid numbers,” said Lyttle.

McMullin finished the season with a 2.35 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.

As for Armsworthy, Lyttle said he also came to the River Rats from Liverpool.

Armsworthy “has brought valued leadership to our young group. He leads by example and is a perfect role model for our younger guys,” said Lyttle.


Upcoming games

The River Rats are set to host the Attack Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m., and then travel for Game 2 of the series Feb. 25.

Game 3 is slated for March 4 in the city, with Game 4 at the Hants Exhibition Arena on March 5 at 7 p.m.

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