By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
And then there was two left standing. The top two regular season teams in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League did what they were supposed to do in the first two rounds of the playoffs, setting up a classic two versus one final featuring the Virden Oil Capitals and the Steinbach Pistons.
Here’s a look at how both teams got here, and who’s been leading them through these playoffs.
No. 2 Virden Oil Capitals
How they got here – Defeated Selkirk in five games, swept Winkler in four games.
While the Oil Capitals swept the Flyers out in four straight, it wasn’t an easy series. Game 1 went into overtime, game two included an empty-net goal, and the series-clincher saw the Oil Capitals score twice in the third period to rally and close out the series.
Much like the regular season, the Oil Capitals have been using their potent offense to power their way to victory. Through nine playoff games, the Oil Capitals have scored 39 goals, or 4.33 goals per game. At the other end of the ice, netminder Riley McVeigh has put up impressive numbers in goal, sporting a 2.32 goals against average, a .932 save percentage, and one shutout.
Leading the way offensively for the Oil Capitals is Ben Dalke, who is tied for the lead in goals scored with seven through two rounds of the playoffs. Dalke also has four assists to lead his team with 11 points. A pair of players are close behind with nine points – Rylee Zimmer and Kirklan Lycar. The team is also spreading around the offense, with 13 players having registered at least one goal.
No. 1 Steinbach Pistons
How they got here – Swept Swan Valley Stampeders in four games, defeated Winnipeg Blues in six games.
Steinbach’s second-round opponent gave them a real test, as the Winnipeg Blues earned a split through the first four games of the series. But the Pistons, who were upset in the second round of the playoffs last year, were able to win the final two games and advance to the league final, perhaps drawing on that experience from a year ago to prevail.
The Pistons were the highest scoring team in the regular season, and they are still scoring at a high clip in these playoffs, averaging 3.80 goals per game, slightly less though that the Oil Capitals.
As expected, the Pistons turned to goaltender Matthew Thiessen in the second round after he and Matthew Radomsky split duties in the first round. Thiessen, who didn’t allow a goal against in the opening round, pitched another shutout to give him three in eight starts. He also has a stellar 1.38 GAA and a .950 save percentage.
Leading the way offensively for the Pistons are a trio of 20-year-olds – Drew Worrad (12 points), Bradley Schoonbaert (11 points), and Braded Purtill (10 points). And much like Virden, Steinbach has been spreading the offense around – 14 players have at least one goal so far in these playoffs.
Playoff series often come down to special teams, and the Oil Capitals might have a slight edge in this department.
Virden sports the top power-play unit in these playoffs so far, scoring 29.4 per cent of the time in these playoffs. Steinbach, meanwhile, has the fourth-best power-play at 20.5 per cent.
In terms of killing penalties, Steinbach owns the second-best penalty kill unit at 85.4 per cent, slightly better than Virden who are third at 83.8 per cent. Both teams also have one short-handed goal in these playoffs.
Virden has not won a MJHL championship since 1994 when they were the Winnipeg Saints, and Steinbach hasn’t won since 2013. It’s the high-powered offense of Virden against the stingy defense of Steinbach. It’s the second seed versus the top seed.
The complete MJHL final schedule will be posted when rink availability is confirmed.