By Derek Holtom
The potential of a rematch from last year’s MJHL final is still a possibility, as both Steinbach and Virden advanced out of the first round of the playoffs. But to do so, they’ll have to knock off the top two seeds from the regular season – the Portage Terriers and Swan Valley Stampeders.
Here’s a look at the second-round match ups and what to expect.
No. 3 Steinbach vs. No. 2 Swan Valley.
How they got here – The Stampeders swept the Dauphin Kings 4-0, while the Pistons went up 3-0 on the Winnipeg Blues before finishing them off in six games.
The matchup – Swan Valley was swept out of the first-round by Steinbach last year, and in fact had not beat the Pistons in years until this season. Both teams won three times against each other this season, though they have not met since December. Swan Valley spread their offense around in the opening round against the Kings, with defenceman of the year Quintin Sudom leading the way with seven assists. Kasyn Kruse picked up his game and led the team with five goals and one assist, while other Stamps to chip in six points in four games includes Alexander Uryga, Bradly Goethals and Brian Harris. The Pistons, the defending league champs until someone beats them, were led by rookie Kyle Bettens who had eight points in six games. Tanner Mole and Easton Bennett each added five points to help the Pistons down the Blues, a series which required double overtime in Game 6 to resolve.
Both goalies saw had higher than expected GAAs and lower save percentages in what were both fairly high-scoring series. Merek Pipes posted a 3.00 GAA and a .913 save percentage for Swan Valley, while Matthew Radomsky had a 3.40 GAA and a .908 save percentage for the Pistons.
Special teams were also not statistically the best, but they both advanced, so maybe stats are not everything. Steinbach’s power-play came in fifth out of eight teams at 17.4 per cent, while Swan Valley’s was sixth at 16.7 per cent. Steinbach’s penalty kill was much better though, placing second at 87 per cent, while Swan Valley’s was sixth at 75 per cent.
These are two evenly matched teams, and this looks like one of those series destined to go seven games.
No. 5 Virden vs. No. 1 Portage
How they got here – Portage swept eighth-ranked Waywayseecappo in four games, while Virden got past Selkirk in six games.
The matchup – Virden was a league finalist last year, and overcame a slow start to earn their way into the top four in the MJHL. Portage brushed off an early exit from last year’s playoffs to reassert themselves as the team to beat in the MJHL by finishing first overall. The Terriers beat the Oil Capitals four out of six times this year, with the two teams splitting their final two meetings when they met back in February. Kolten Kanaski of the Virden Oil Capitals tied for the first-round scoring lead with nine points in six games. He was aided by Ben Dalke, who had seven points, and Hunter Cloutier, who added six. Portage, meanwhile, managed to have a pair of players get seven points in the opening round against the Wolverines – defenceman Sam Huston and Chase Brakel. Both were late-season additions to the Terriers who provided much experience and skill to an already strong team. Huston, a defenceman, had five goals to lead Portage in that category, showing they can get offense from anywhere.
Both of these teams had the top goaltenders from the opening round. Portage’s Ethan Peterson went 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA and a .944 save percentage, while Virden’s Dalton Dosch played slightly more minutes than teammate Riley Wallace, going 2-1 with a 1.75 GAA and a .953 save percentage. But Dosch was injured in the first round and his status remains questionable.
Virden had the top power-play unit in the opening round, hitting 33.3 per cent, just ahead of second-place Portage who scored 31.8 per cent of the time. The Terriers, though, had the best penalty kill at 90 per cent – with two short-handed goals scored as well. The Oil Capitals were fifth in the penalty kill at 77.3 per cent.
Portage has the edge in many areas, but Virden enters the semifinals brimming with confidence after one upset. Can they make it another?