Coming into this Bauer Conference Semi-Final with the Humboldt Broncos, the Ice Wolves players and coaching staff were confident they would only need to win one game in Humboldt. This of course rests on the Wolves winning all three of their games on home ice. Now they have a chance to make that a reality, or else be in some serious trouble.
The Ice Wolves' Bastion of Hope (also known as the Mel), saw the Wolves and Broncos clash in two very tight games this season. One, a 6-5 Humboldt win with the other going to the Broncos 3-2 in the shootout. Certainly the Wolves hope they can get the jump on Humboldt on home ice, but it's far from a guarantee.
The Ice Wolves home record was 19-7-0-3 this season, at the Mel, it was 17-5-0-2 (Showcase, 4 games at the JRMCC). The Broncos road record was a similar (and impressive) 19-7-1-2. I'm not sure how it all breaks down with some showcase and neutral site games, but the point is, Humboldt is a very strong road team. The Wolves have their work cut out for them.
The Ice Wolves certainly picked up some confidence in Game 2, despite losing. They were in a position to even the game up and had themselves in it till the bitter end. If the result was flipped the other way, I don't think anyone would have been surprised. That's of course based on the play of the game, and not the Wolves woes in Humboldt. La Ronge knows they have an opportunity on home ice, but can the Wolves convert on it?
Alex Rajotte looked much better against Humboldt in Game 2, but he can only do so much against odd man rushes (which accounted for two goals). The Wolves defence will have to continue to 'up' its awareness of where the Broncos are going with the play at all times. It will be a touch easier for the Wolves to contain the Broncos on the smaller ice surface of the Mel, but it also brings some more challenges.
The shorter surface means any mistake will be amplified by that speed. If the Wolves can keep in front of the Broncos forwards, it will limit their skill advantage. If the Wolves are chasing the Broncos, it's a lot less distance for Humboldt to cover from their own zone to the Ice Wolves end.
The Wolves powerplay needs to make its mark in the next couple of games. La Ronge had plenty of opportunities with the man advantage in Humboldt, but has yet to capitalize. They've come close multiple times, but haven't been able to find the back of the net. The Wolves powerplay woes on the road this season were quite pronounced with a 12.4% away from La Ronge. We'll see if the Pack can get it rolling at home.
The Broncos don't need to change a whole ton. There are plenty of players with experience at the Mel on the team who know most of the quirks. Andrew Johnston and Robbie Ciolfi are two guys who have above average experience playing in La Ronge, and they'll be looked to again by the Broncos to douse the Ice Wolves hopes.
I'm guessing Humboldt will roll with Matt Hrynkiw tonight after starting Colin Dzijacky in Game 2. It was good for the Broncos to get Dzijacky into some early action to keep him from getting cold, and he looked strong in the second outing as he was tested considerably more than Hrynkiw. Should Hrynkiw get the call tonight, he'll likely face a heavier work load than the 19 shots on goal in Game 1.
By the end of the night, we could have a pretty strong indication of how this series will progress. The always pivotal Games 3 and 4 could have this series all evened up, complete or just about done. The Ice Wolves hope to turn this into a three game series, while the Broncos are aiming to get this matchup over with quickly.
I'll have tonight's webcast starting at 7:25. No Curtis tonight as he's in meetings and out of town. Though I can guess the important quote he would deliver before tonight's game. "You're not in trouble until you lose a game at home!"
Enjoy the game!