By Derek Holtom
See schedule below
With 12 wins apiece, the MJHL champion Portage Terriers and the SJHL champion Battleford North Stars will begin the ANAVET Cup this Friday with a berth to the RBC Cup – the national championship for junior A hockey – on the line.
Both teams have been tested, with each winning a dramatic Game 7 during their playoff run to get to this point. Let’s take a look at how they got here and what to expect in this best-of-seven clash.
Battleford North Stars (35-13-5-5 in the regular season, 12-2-2 in the playoffs)
The North Stars posted the second-best record in the regular season – finishing a single point behind the Nipawin Hawks – and thus avoided the Survivor Series round still employed in the SJHL.
In the quarter-finals, the North Stars needed seven games to get past the Flin Flon Bombers. Things started well enough the Battleford as they went up 3-0, only to lose the next three games – two of which went to overtime – before prevailing 4-1 in a deciding Game 7 on home ice.
From there, the North Stars learned their lesson and did not let up, sweeping the Yorkton Terriers 4-0 in the semifinals. And in the finals, Battleford won three straight against Melfort after splitting the first two games to capture the SJHL championship. The clinching game wasn’t even close – they beat on the Mustangs by a 7-2 score.
Offensively the North Stars have been led by Quintin Loon-Stewardson. The Sioux Lookout, ON, native has 10 goals and 19 points in the playoffs – as well as 36 penalty minutes. He brings skill and grit to this team. Hometown product Braydon Buziak is next in team scoring with eight goals and 19 points, followed by Elijah Loon-Stewardson, who has 12 points in these playoffs.
Battleford’s true strength lies in keeping the puck out of the next, as witnessed in netminder Joel Gryzbowski’s statistics. The Hafford, SK, native sports a 1.68 GAA and a .950 save percentage.
Portage Terriers (46-11-2-1 in the regular season, 12-3-0 in the playoffs)
After breezing through the first two rounds of the playoffs by sweeping Waywayseecappo and Virden, the Portage Terriers faced the Swan Valley Stampeders in an epic seven-game classic. After falling down 3-2 in the series, head coach Blake Spiller switched netminder, and the play of Nathan Moore helped spark the Terriers to two straight wins and the MJHL title.
In storybook fashion, the Terriers gave up the lead late in Game 7 on home ice, only to see Reece Henry score the golden goal in overtime to lift the Terriers to their fourth league title in the last five years.
Chase Brakel has been a force for the Terriers. The Winnipeg native has 22 points in 15 playoff games – second most in the MJHL playoffs. Scott Mickoski – another Winnipeg product – added 16 points in Portage’s championship run, while rookie Jay Buchholz from Fargo, N.D., added 13 points to aid the cause.
The Terriers certainly have goaltending depth. Ethan Peterson has played most of the playoffs for Portage, going 9-1-2 with a 2.32 GAA and a .913 save percentage. And now they have Nathan Moore to turn to as well. He posted a 3-0-0 record in the playoffs with a 3.00 GAA and a .876 save percentage – numbers which are slightly elevated due to him playing in a high-scoring win over Wayway in the first round. Against the Stampeders his GAA was less than 2.00.
The big challenge for both teams will be to reset and get up for a playoff against a team they’ve never played against. Both teams had emotional runs to their respective league titles, so they’ll have to dig deep to be ready for this ANAVET Cup.
Intangibles – The Terriers have home ice advantage due to the arena in North Battleford being previously booked. Games 1 and 2 go in Portage April 26 and 27. Games 3, 4 and 5 if necessary go in North Battleford April 30-May 2. And if Game 6 or 7 are required they will take place in Portage May 5 and 6 … The Terriers will have suspended veteran Braden Billaney available in Game 2. He has been suspended for the entire playoffs due to a late season infraction … If Terriers can win this series they’ll make back-to-back appearances at the national championship tournament, as they are hosting the national championship next year.
|April 26||Battlefords North Stars||at||Portage Terriers||7:30 pm|
|April 27||Battlefords North Stars||at||Portage Terriers||7:30 pm|
|April 30||Portage Terriers||at||Battlefords North Stars||7:30 pm|
|May 1||Portage Terriers||at||Battlefords North Stars||7:30 pm|
|May 2||Portage Terriers||at||Battlefords North Stars (if necess)||7:30 pm|
|May 5||Battlefords North Stars||at||Portage Terriers (if necess)||7:30 pm|
|May 6||Battlefords North Stars||at||Portage Terriers (if necess)||7:30 pm|