Voice of the ND Hounds
The opening round of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Playoffs are finished, and they were doozies. Three of the four quarterfinals went to Game 7's on Tuesday night with Estevan, Yorkton and Battlefords joining Melfort in the Final Four.
Here are my 10 things:
1. Ball-Brecht-Ner – Three of four Round 1 series’ went to Game 7, but the one that I would have put money on to go to the distance – the Melfort-Kindersley one – went only five. Goes to show how unpredictable the SJHL playoffs have been and are going to continue to be! The biggest reason the Mustangs ran over the Klippers? The best line in the league by a good distance: Carson Albrecht between Justin Ball and Tanner Zentner. Melfort scored 15 goals in the five-game series, that line scored 10 of them, and combined for 17 points. The old adage is that ‘you can’t win playoff hockey with only one line…” well…I guess unless that line is this line. Gotta give huge kudos to Noah Giesbrecht in net too, after he won all four of his starts and earned a sparkling save percentage of .939 over 240 minutes of playoff action. It’s on to Round 2 and a tantalizing series with the Estevan Bruins for the ‘Stangs.
2. Terriers Stun The World – By far the biggest surprise of the playoffs so far was the No. 8 seeded Yorkton Terriers taking down of the regular season champion Nipawin Hawks, in Game 7, in a packed-out Centennial Arena in Nipawin. Nobody in the post-season has seen anywhere near the amount of rubber as rookie 2000-born goaltender Ryan Ouellette, who has been excellent in making the right saves at the right time, even if his numbers don’t jump off the page. Still, nobody scored as many goals as Yorkton’s 242 in the regular season, and offensively they’ve continued right where they left off. To me, the only real difference over the Survivor Series and Round 1 is that they are getting those saves at big times (including on a late Game 7 6-on-3 power play for the Hawks, with the score 4-3, with No. 1 defenceman and captain Brendan Mark in the box! What drama!). Huge kudos to Ouellette!
3. The Line That Stirs Yorkton’s Drink – Speaking of those Terriers, where would they be without the line of Cody Bruchkowski between Colby Brandt and ChantzPetruic? Those three were flying against ND in Round 1, especially in the second periods in Games 1 and 3, and they kept flying against Nipawin. The 20-year-old Brandt leads the league in playoff scoring with 12 points, albeit after playing the maximum 10 games so far; but his talent has never been mistakable to those that know him, and as one that can say he does, I am not at all surprised. A speedster with a great eye for the pass, he has also scored some big goals this post-season, and taken a real leadership role on the club. Petruic is a perfect running mate for him, another unselfish player with great speed, who is as crafty as they come in the SJHL; meanwhile the solid-bodied Bruchkowski simply and boldly goes to the right areas of the ice and has gotten rewarded for it. It’s a great line that I expect will cause the Battlefords North Stars to think long and hard about matching No. 1 defender Cody Spagrud against them, and not against Jared Legien and Brendan Klatt. Very interesting to see what Stars coach Brayden Klimosko does!
4. Camrud On A Mission – There is nobody who has been more individually dominant this post-season than Brayden Camrud. The veteran also has 12 points, through only seven games, and he almost single-handedly held off the Estevan Bruins in Game 4 in Humboldt with a five-point night, including two goals to pour icy water on a wild Estevan rally. Given the circumstances of his season, with the crash, the turmoil around the coaching staff, and the national attention, Camrud’s season is one of the most incredible individual demonstrations of focus and production through adversity I’ve ever seen, and I will forever have respect for him. If there was a player with a more devastating release in the SJHL this year, I have not been witnessed to it. Kudos to the Broncos, who I am sure are crestfallen after letting a 3-1 series lead slip, and falling in overtime in Game 7 in Estevan’s Affinity Place.
6. Great Fan Send-Offs! – Loved seeing the videos of the send-offs that the fans of Yorkton and Flin Flon gave their respective clubs as they headed off for Game 7s elsewhere. Check them out on the twitter accounts of those two teams and on the league’s social media outlets! The fans of the SJ have really shown up for these playoffs so far, and have been rewarded with some epic storylines! Get on board if you are not already folks!
7. The Health of Boots – The Flin Flon Bombers did well to push the No. 2 seeded Battlefords North Stars to Game 7. Yes, Mike Reagan loaded up the Bombers’ forward corps, adding the big fish Cade Kowalski at the deadline from Weyburn, to a crew that was already stacked; but this team’s defence-corps, and the whole squad in general, just was not the same without their leader Calvon Boots on the back end. The Alaskan-born blue line general really played in only four of their games in the playoffs, had the misfortune of taking a four-minute high sticking penalty in overtime that cost his team in Game 2, and just did not seem like he was himself when he was playing. Huge credit to the rest of the Flin Flon defence for filling that gap – something they really struggled to do when Boots was out in the regular season – and pushing the series to the limit. It’ll be very very interesting to see what the Bombers look like next year…my guess? Very different than this. Never underestimate Mike Reagan’s ability to build a club though.
8. Coach of the Year Goes To… – Kindersley’s Clayton Jardine was awarded the coach of the year after leading his Klippers to a 36-win season. It was his first year as a head coach, and the Lacombe, AB native only turned 28 years of age earlier this month. Really impressive! Sure, his club got great goaltending from Justen Close - the man who will now head off to the University of Minnesota - but he needed to get this group to believe in what he was preaching, and he did it very well. With a solid number of 1999-birth years playing key roles for the Klips this year, including the likes of Kyle Bosch, Austin Nault, Tyler Traptow, Noah Bankowski, Brendon Borbely, and Devon Cyr, I believe Kindersley will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. Well done and well-deserved Clayton!
9. Crazy Stat of the Week: Battlefords’ PK – Here’s a stat for you to show how much the North Stars penalty kill dominated Flin Flon’s power play in their Round 1 series: the Bombers went 2-for-33 in the series….that’s a power play just over six per cent. I’ll leave that stat there for your enjoyment (or not so much, if you’re from the great province of Manitoba).
10. Epic Midget Final (Bonus) – I’ve had the tremendous honour and privilege of calling the Saskatchwan Midget AAA final series, on-going between the Notre Dame Hounds and the Saskatoon Blazers, and I have to tell you, it has been epic. Game 3 goes Wednesday night in Saskatoon’s Rod Hamm Arena (I’ll have the call on Hounds Hockey Radio at https://www.notredamehounds.ca/houndshockeyradio if you’re interested), with the series tied at 1-1. Lots of interesting future WHL and Junior A talent on display, including two almost-certain future Prince Albert Raiders in the Blazers’ hulking winger Cole Nagy and super 15-year-old defender Nolan Allan, as well as the well-coveted Alberta-born Keaton Sorensen and the brilliant goaltender Thomas Wardle of Notre Dame. Both teams are just loaded, as you would expect in the final, so come out and watch an intense, awesome series in either Wilcox or Saskatoon! Game 4 is Friday night in Wilcox, and will be live in HD on the Notre Dame Hounds livestream! I’ll have the call of every second.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)