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It's sweet 16 for the Essex 73s.
The 73s, the most decorated Junior C franchise in Ontario, will have to make more room in the trophy case after they edged the Belle River Canadiens 3-1 Tuesday to win their 16th Great Lakes Junior C Hockey League title
Essex won the best-of-seven final 4-1 to advance to the Schmalz Cup semifinals.
It hasnt sunk in for me yet, said Essex goalie Taylor Speed, who came up huge down the stretch.
Im speechless, but its a great feeling.
This latest championship truly is a bridge between the successful recent past under departed coach Tony Piroski and its future under the stewardship of Gil Langlois, who guided Essex to the title in his debut season.
One of the key pillars between eras is captain Sean Ducharme.
Its my third one, said Ducharme, who had a goal, an assist and won the two critical faceoffs in the games last minute that assured Essex of victory.
It doesnt feel different (because Im captain). It still takes a team effort.
Our leaders were able to keep things positive even when negative things were going on.
There was plenty of both in the game for the 73s.
The Canadiens tried to replicate the formula that brought them success in Game 4 with a blazing start.
Belle River limited the 73s to five shots in the opening period, but the Canadiens couldnt find a way to put any of their 14 shots past Speed.
They did beat Speed twice, but Nik Dobrich and Spencer Van Buskirk both struck iron.
We were lucky to get out of the period scoreless, Ducharme said. Taylor (Speed) bailed us out a few times.
However, the Canadiens were also swept along for the ride over the peaks and valleys of this tense contest.
Their impressive first period was followed by a disappointing middle frame while Essex was upping the tempo of its game.
Ducharme opened the scoring at 8:01 banging in Aaron Thiberts rebound on the power play.
Then 74 seconds later, Tyler Pope-Fergusons shot got caught up in the feet of Canadiens goalie Trevor Besse, who accidently knocked it into his own goal while searching for the elusive puck.
The whole series, the key was being able to play a full 60 minutes, Canadiens winger Chris DiNatale said.
We didnt five a full 60 tonight. We were off and on.
Youre not going to win doing that. They worked hard and deserved to win.
Essex took its 2-0 lead deep into the third period, before Nik Dobrich snuck in behind the defence to score at 14:21.
From that point on, it was all hands on deck for Essex in the face of the Canadiens pressure.
I tried not to (look at the clock), Speed said. I was just waiting to hear that final buzzer.
The 73s finally finished off the Canadiens in the final minute when Ducharme won a draw in the Essex zone and Kevin Boggs clearance slid into the empty net with 39.6 seconds remaining.