The biggest of the season for both of these teams in fact. The Terriers did what they needed to in La Ronge, and that was get a split at the Mel. Now they have home ice advantage through the remaining five games of this series, but they have to hold onto it.
The Ice Wolves featured the best road record in the league during the regular season, and while the playoffs are a new season, it still counts for something. The Terriers have the best road record in the playoffs at 4-0, when you sweep the first two series, that's going to happen. Ice Wolves are 3-1 away from the Mel in the playoffs, but have won their last three.
In my estimation, the series will really get going tonight. Both teams had their less than spectacular games and each got a win because the other didn't play 60 minutes. While it can sometimes be elusive at the junior level, whoever gets that full game effort is going to take home the Cup. If both bring it... well, then my friends, we're in for a treat.
Read on for my preview of Game 3 of the SJHL Finals.
Like the Terriers for the first couple of games, the Wolves got into Yorkton a day early to get rid of the bus legs. Good call, because that is a long bus ride, we took care of three movies and a long Family Guy episode. Definitely wouldn't want to have to play hockey after sitting on the bus for that long.
I honestly don't think either team was too happy with their effort from the weekend. The Ice Wolves played a pretty solid Game 1, but their execution was still lacking in a couple of situations, mainly the powerplay. While the Terriers do feature a fantastic penalty kill that's riding a lot of momentum (40 straight kills, thanks Craig Stein), but the Wolves are getting to that over-doing it stage that they can fall into. They were effective against Melfort because there were pucks going to the net and causing traffic in front. There's traffic in front of Peters, but the pucks aren't coming. Yes, the Terriers are knocking down a lot of shots, but the Wolves haven't been helping themselves out.
On the flip side, the Terrier's powerplay has been less than successful. In fact about as cold as a frozen burbot. Their issue is along the boards. La Ronge forces them into the corners, and from there, are getting the pucks out. Through the first two games of this series, the Ice Wolves have been the better team along the boards and some of their nasty play seems to be creating a situation where the Terriers would rather not get into those fights for the puck. That gives the Wolves PK an advantage every time they're on the ice.
So far, the first goal has been THE goal. In the first two games, the opening goal seemed to take all the gas out of the team it was scored on. The question is, will that maintain throughout the series? You can bet I'll have my eye on it tonight.
One thing Yorkton should be concerned about is scoring chances. While they won in the part that matters in Game 2, they were heavily outchanced. Devin Peters is a fantastic goaltender, one of the best in the league, but can he steal three more games? Though, in Game 2, he only needed to steal half a game and apparently frustrated the Ice Wolves to the nines. Maybe that's all he needs to do. Regardless of what Mr. Peters will do through the series, the Yorkton offence needs to pick it up. The top two lines have been nearly invisible through the first couple games of the series. They looked better in Game 2, and earned some chances, but not in great numbers for sure. We'll see tonight if the small ice in La Ronge was a major factor in that regard and if the Terriers big guns come out firing in Game 3.
While they've been slightly more visible in the series, the Ice Wolves top unit needs to get rolling as well. A couple of individual efforts created some scoring chances for La Ronge, but the line plays best when it moves the puck to get into the zone and fires when the chances come. Right now they're carrying into the zone and passing for that tap in goal. Those aren't going to be too available in this series.
The third and fourth lines of both teams have been very good. They're creating some of the frustration for the top lines and maybe even forcing them into their ineffective play. They've manufactured goals on both sides with simple, but effective play. The big lines on both sides should be taking notes when they're on the ice against them.
Adam Bartko has been tough to get a read on in this series. On one level, he's actually played quite well. Making a lot of saves in the process. However, his rebound control has been a concern. The Terriers are using it to their advantage. Instead of ringing the puck around and letting Bartko stop it up or the puck getting trapped along the boards, they're slapping the puck on Bartko just over the blue-line. There are a lot of rebounds coming right up the middle onto Yorkton sticks. Two of the five goals were directly manufactured off of rebounds into the slot. Not a bad percentage for Yorkton. Against Melfort, the puck was sticking to Bartko, very few rebounds. He needs to find that confidence he was playing with against the Mustangs.
One injury note, Doug Lindensmith isn't skating today, so my guess is he won't be playing in Game 3, and maybe the rest of the series. In that event, it looks like the second line will be Ducharme/Dieno/Cliché. Top unit stays the same, Keller/Piller/Souchotte/Smerek are all colour coded for the same line, so I would imagine one of them will be sitting and the fourth unit looks like Enns/Boyer/Hladun. So it looks like no Billet Line tonight.
Players to Watch
Adam Bartko (G) - See paragraph above? While he's been keeping the puck out in a very solid manner, there are some concerns with his game. If he can get back to where he was last week, the Wolves will be in great shape for the rest of the series.
Marc-Andre Carre (F) - It isn't often Carre is held off the scoresheet (it's not often all the Wolves are held off). The Wolves need the MVP to be exactly that in Yorkton to at least come out with a split.
Robert Monfore (D) - He was the third star in Game 2 after playing a strong physical and downright nasty game. He's a big part of the reason the Terriers would rather not get into battles along the boards. He chipped in with a rare goal in Game 1, heck, if he can score another one, look out.
Clarke Breitkruez (F) - The Terriers need more from Breitkruez as he wasn't fully on his game in the first couple. If he can get it rolling, the Terriers can get some secondary scoring and that will go a long way to improving their series outlook.
Devin Peters (G) - The only goalie this season to shut out the Ice Wolves, Peters was very good through the first two games. The Terriers relied on Peters heavily in La Ronge and I imagine he'll be busy in Game 3.
Blaine Tendler (D) - The SJHL's top defenceman will be busy tonight on the bigger ice surface. The Ice Wolves danglers and speedsters will have that much more room to work and he'll be charged with keeping them from getting good looks at Devin Peters' net.
Catch the game tonight live on MBC Radio and MBCRadio.com. I'll start things out with the pre-game show at 7:15 with the puck drop from the Farrell Agencies Arena at 7:30. I'm looking forward to a packed house and a loud La Ronge section to go with it. Braden Malsbury from CTV News in Yorkton will join me on colour commentary.
Enjoy Game 3!