With time running down on the regular season, we look ahead to what the first round of the MJHL’s McMunn & Yates Turnbull Cup Playoffs could look like.
MGEU East Division Playoff Matchups
1st Portage Terriers or Steinbach Pistons vs 4th Niverville Nighthawks
2nd Portage Terriers or Steinbach Pistons vs 3rd Winkler Flyers
MGEU East Breakdown: While the matchups are not set in concrete just yet, what we do know for sure is that Winkler and Niverville will start their playoffs on the road.
Portage Terriers – 42-11-1-2 – 87 points
Portage is coming in as one of the hottest teams in the country. They were cooled down a little in their last couple games but that shouldn’t be seen as more than a slight bump in the road. Prior to their two-game slide, the Terriers rattled off 14 wins in their previous 15 games. They are one of the top teams in the country and seem to be using being the Hosts for the Centennial Cup as fuel to outperform even the already high expectations.
Strength: Scoring – Portage has a MJHL best 244 goals scored this season. While they have the top scorer in Ryan Botterill (44 goals in 55 games), it’s the depth of the scoring that makes Portage so dangerous. They have 12 players in double digits with two of the twelve being defensemen. 15 Terriers have 20 or more points and 8 players average .81 points per game or higher.
Concern: Goaltending – It’s the most important position and one that can keep coaches up at night. The Terriers have a two-headed monster in the crease and both have shown they can be “the guy”. Both have also had their struggles at times. It doesn’t take much to get a goalie hot and that’s what Portage will be looking for as they head into the post-season. Team defense will be key in limiting the Grade A scoring chances against.
Steinbach Pistons – 40-14-0-1 – 81 points
While it’s a bit of a long shot to leapfrog into first place, the Steinbach Pistons will be more focused on ramping up and dialing in their effort level over the final week of the regular season. Two massive tests loom between what could be playoff matchups sooner or later, the Winkler Flyers and Portage Terriers. Coming off a weekend where they showed they can battle, be physical, get the timely save and score the needed goals, the Pistons are feeling confident they can win any way and in any style the game ends up going.
Strength: Defense and Goaltending – The Pistons have a good balance of left and right shot defenders who can move the puck well either by passing or skating. They spend little time in their zone and if they do get hemmed in, they know they have a top-notch goalie in the crease to back them up.
Concern: Depth Scoring – Steinbach is led by some of the biggest horses in the MJHL offensively but in the playoffs, the teams that go far get contributions from everyone in the lineup. The Pistons will need guys up and down the lineup to chip in and not just break even. Also, they may need their defense to come up with timely goal.
Winkler Flyers – 33-15-6-1 – 73 points
Seems like all season long, the Flyers have been that club that just goes about their business, does what they need to do, and comes out of battles with wins. A hard-nosed, workman-like group that can score just as easily as lay a big hit. Starting on the road won’t be an issue for the Flyers who went 16-6-5-1 away from the comforts of their own barn. They’ve also scored more goals on the road (92) then at home (91).
Strength: Physicality/Speed – The Flyers make you earn whatever you get off them. They play hard, they play tough and they play for keeps. With big body’s that can fly, the club is going to force battles and lean on their opponent, softening them up so they can blaze a trail through the neutral zone and show off their impressive transition offense to get opportunities.
Concern: Special Teams – Throughout the year, the Flyers have been a middle in the pack team in both power play and penalty kill. Many playoff games come down to who can execute in the key moments either up a man or down a man. The Flyers have a bend but don’t break mentality that can be tested because of how many penalties they take. Keep in mind they are 3rd in the MJHL in shorthanded goals with 8.
Niverville Nighthawks – 24-27-1-3 – 52 points
Making the post-season in their in inaugural season is something that will set the franchise off in the right direction for years to come. A group that has been tested right from the start of the year has found ways to win games when it’s mattered the most. They’ve had their growing pains and they’ll be underdogs in the first round but hockey isn’t played on paper. The Nighthawks have the weapons to make every game interesting and they’ll also physically let teams know they’ve been in a battle.
Strengths: Offensive Skill – Boasting 11 players with 20 or more points, the Nighthawks have a deep and talented team which also gets quite a bit of contributions from their backend. Spread throughout the lineup, anyone on any night can be the hero. The power play at home has been lethal.
Concerns: Consistency – If the team sticks to what makes them successful, they’ll be fine. If they get out of their comfort zone and get away from their plan, they’ll struggle. Having played “playoff style” games will help but there’s a lot more to it when its actually all on the line. They’ll need total and complete buy in every night. Know your role, play your role style hockey.