By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
There will definitely be some fresh faces in the MJHL playoffs next month.
When the Dauphin Kings clinched a playoff spot in mid-February, it ended a two-year playoff drought. Prior to that, the Kings got into the post-season thanks to the ‘Survivor Series’ format, which allows 10 of the 11 MJHL teams to make it into the post season.
The last time the Kings got into the post season by being a true top-eight team was the final year of split divisions. The Kings actually won the old Sher-Wood Division back in 2013-14, where they went to the finals only to lose to the Winnipeg Blues (who had to play in a ‘Survivor Series’ as the fourth seed and actually required 14 victories to win the league title).
Dauphin would go on to advance to the RBC Cup by qualifying through the now defunct Western Canada Cup which they hosted that year. The Kings have not enjoyed much playoff success since then, but they’re back with the best team they’ve put together in years.
With the Kings in the playoffs, that means another team had to come out, and that would be the OCN Blizzard. It’s been a frustrating season for the Blizzard, but they are no doubt optimistic that they’ll be more competitive next season with less off-ice concerns swirling around the team now that their ownership situation seems to have resolved itself.
Another team which didn’t make the playoffs last year is threatening to do so. The Waywayseecappo Wolverines have had a roller coaster season. They started out on fire and were challenging for first place early on. They dipped in the middle of the season, but after trading some veterans away at the deadline they came alive and are once again one of the toughest teams to beat.
The Wolverines put together a lengthy winning streak in early February to pass the Winkler Flyers – highlighted by sweeping the Flyers in both games. After Wednesday’s 6-3 triumph over the Dauphin Kings, the Wolverines led the Flyers by six points with a game in hand.
Winkler only has four games remaining. If they won out, the Wolverines would need just three points in their final five games to lock up a playoff spot. Any combination of wins by the Wolverines or losses by the Flyers that equals two and Wayway clinches the final playoff spot.
The other team to miss the playoffs last year is the Neepawa Natives, and they will once again miss the post season. The Natives, who have qualified for the playoffs just once since the 2010-11 season, are once again in next-season mode.
There’s also a heated battle for top spot in the standings, as the Portage Terriers try to fend off the Swan Valley Stampeders, who have now won 10 straight games.
The Stampeders trail the Terriers by four points, but have two games in hand. Both teams will clash on Friday (Feb 22) night in Portage la Prairie, and the winner of that game will have a huge advantage in claiming top spot in the standings.
The Stampeders themselves are trying to fend off the defending champion Steinbach Pistons, who sit in third place. The Pistons trail the Stamps by four points with four games remaining. But Swan Valley retains two games in hand, giving them a huge advantage in holding onto second.
The situations is also very fluid for spots four through seven, as Virden, Selkirk, Winnipeg and Dauphin could all still end up moving up or down a spot or two in the final week and a half.
It all sets up an exciting finish for the MJHL, with nine teams still jockeying for eight playoff positions.