At least in theory, that's what is left for the La Ronge Ice Wolves and Portage Terriers to show who is the better team. Ironically enough, with all the stretched out scores and such, with last night's 1-0 Ice Wolves win in Game 6, the goal differential in this series is zero, much like it was heading into Game 7 of the SJHL Final.
This series hasn't been on the same level of excitement consistently, but it got there last night. I don't think anyone could have predicted the outcome of Game 6. Adam Bartko was possessed by some puck stopping demon last night and stopped everything the Terriers threw at him. A few of the adjectives from last night: unreal, unbelievable, dominating, ridiculous, fantastic, ridiculous. It was the best goaltending performance I've seen this year. If Bartko can keep on going like that, the Wolves are in good shape.
Even with Bartko playing like the "Goalie from Hell", the Ice Wolves could use a couple more goals in Game 7. It was painfully evident that this ice surface does not favour La Ronge, with the apparently unfrozen pucks added in, it seriously hampers the Wolves skill game. Guys like Marc-Andre Carre who usually accept passes no problem raise their eyes to the sky in frustration when it hops over their stick. The worst by far was when Nick Keller took the time to settle down the puck, then took one stride only to have it hop into the air and over his stick. It hurts the Terriers too, but they don't rely on that skill game quite like the Wolves do.
That said, the Wolves need to make the adjustment. Just get the puck deep and go after it, see what happens from there. Too many times, they got turned around at the blue-line and that leads to the exorbitant amount of time the Terriers spent in the La Ronge end. The Terriers played well enough to win the game Saturday night, they just couldn't find a way past Bartko. To the Wolves credit, of the 40 shots Bartko faced, a lot of them ended up being from outside and any rebounds he did give up, the Wolves were there to clear them. For the first time this series, the Wolves truly showed one of the reasons why they gave up the second fewest goals during the SJHL regular season.
One more thing about Game 6 before I move on, and this was very unfortunate to see, the officiating in the game was abhorrent. The first period was fine and actually well ref'd, but as the game went on, it became frustrating. There weren't a ridiculous number of penalties called, but the calls that were made.... like I said, it was unfortunate to see. I'm hoping for better tonight.
Game 7 is such a gongshow, a lot of the time they don't live up to the billing with one team rolling by another because of the emotion flying around. Other times, you get the fantastic nailbiter that was the SJHL Championship Game. This is the time for every 20 year old on each team to step up and have the game of their Junior-A career, because after 60 minutes, it could be over. There's so much that can go weird in a deciding game like this, you just hope it goes well for both squads and we get an entertaining game.
On the experience side, the Wolves have gone from a team with little or no elimination game experience to one with a decent amount. Game 7 in the SJ Final, Game 6 and now Game 7 tonight. If there's one team on the ice that really understands what the whirlwind of a deciding game like this really is, it's the Ice Wolves. They need to take advantage of that tonight and be right on the Terriers' doorstep from puck drop. It will be a little different playing the final game in Portage this time around, but the 150-200 Ice Wolves fans + MJHL Fans that want the Ice Wolves to win (seriously, I have a few emails to prove it) will likely be quite loud. If last night was any indication when there was only around 80 of them, the La Ronge fans will come ready for battle with those air horns, and maybe a Burbot or two?
This series has been so tough to gauge and I really don't know what to expect. I imagine the Terriers are very frustrated with last night, they had every opportunity to even that game and couldn't do it. They will be in a foul mood today and that probably bodes well for them as it will dull the jitters. The Wolves brought intensity and poise to Game 6, even when they could have folded with so much going against them with injuries and the like, they kept going. The 20-year olds for La Ronge could be the deciding factor in this game, if every 20 year old on either side plays the game of his life, La Ronge holds a few more 20's. Veterans who have been here and beyond more than once.
Players to Watch
Taylor Piller (F) - Any team with Piller on it has a chance to win. Is it his hard working attitude? The calm demeanour and veteran presence? Maybe the leadership he provides on a nightly basis? Maybe even something just to do with luck, but the guy has been to three straight RBC Cups and been on four straight SJHL Championship teams. If there is one guy on the ice that knows how to win, it's Taylor Piller. Look for the guy they call Pillsy to have a big game.
Adam Bartko (G) - He stunned the PCU Centre in Game 6, then did it again, and again and again, etc. Bartko was an entirely different goalie from the first five games of the series and the Wolves need that again. I'm sure tonight, he'll be looking for some help from his scorers.
Travis Eggum (F) - He leads the series in goals, and showed in Game 4 just how explosive he can be. The Wolves need him shooting from everywhere to give Jason Kasdorf some serious work. He proved in Game 4 that his scoring range goes a long way from the blue paint. The Wolves hope the 58 goal scorer can do it once again.
Kenton Valiant (D) - One of those 20's that doesn't want to play his final game until Camrose. He's been very good in this series against the Ice Wolves' top scorers and provides a big physical presence. He's tough to knock of the puck and starts out a lot of successful Terriers' rushes. He will be relied on once again to contain the Wolves scorers.
Tyler Moore (F) - With nearly as strong of a track record as Taylor Piller, Moore is in his third Anavet Cup. While he's lost a step in this series, leading myself and others to wonder if he's nursing an injury, he's still dangerous. Once that adrenaline gets going, you don't feel that pain quite as much, will he be able to lead his team to one more victory?
Kajon McKay (F) - One of the strongest faceoff takers I've seen in a while. His percentage would likely be obscene if we kept track. He won four draws in the Wolves end in the final minute or so of Game 6. His speed and creativity is a boost to the Terriers. They'll need those faceoff wins again tonight.
Considering pretty much everyone in the rink for Game 6 walked out the doors and got into line to buy tickets for tonight, I think it's safe to say tonight will be another sellout. It probably already is. The Wolves managed to set aside 150 tickets, but I'm not sure how many if any are left. There's a fan plane coming to Portage today, so the Ice Wolves Nation will be in greater numbers tonight cheering their team, hoping to see the franchise's first Anavet Cup win.
I'll have the call of the game with Bill Burfoot starting at 6:15 (Saskatchewan Time) with the Pre-Game show, followed by puck drop at 6:30. It's going to be an exciting game and as much as Game 7's are somewhat the bane of my existence (Avalanche lost a lot of them a few years ago, but they won the cup in a game 7, I'm getting off track) I can't wait to bring this game to you.
I just have two words for the Ice Wolves in advance of this game...