The Ice Wolves impressive run of two SJHL Championships came to a jarring halt Wednesday night when the Humboldt Broncos completed the sweep of La Ronge in a 6-2 victory. The game was closer than the score indicated, but the Ice Wolves didn't seem to have enough energy in their game to make a play for avoiding the loss on home ice. A lot of the Wolves hopes were resting on Tuesday night, and after that loss, a feeling of inevitability seemed to settle around the team. Not the mindset you want coming into an elimination game.
Despite coming out flat in the first the Wolves were held in it by Alex Rajotte who made sixteen saves in the opening frame. However, early in the second period, La Ronge got down by two and would be fighting to come back from that all night. The Wolves seemed to get a spark after pulling within one for the second time on the night late in the middle period, but couldn't even it up before the third and the Broncos quickly put any hope of a comeback out of reach and cruised to the victory and advance to the Bauer Conference Final.
For the first time in two years, the Ice Wolves face elimination (without the chance to win themselves) in the SJHL Playoffs. Many of the Ice Wolves hopes in this series hinged on being perfect at home and stealing one on the road. With a 3-2 loss at the Mel Tuesday night, the Wolves fall behind the Broncos 3-0 in their Conference Semi-Final and have their backs firmly against the wall.
Tuesday's game started out well for the Ice Wolves. They were physical and kept the pressure firmly on the Broncos. It certainly became evident the Broncos weren't in a comfortable position. Time after time, the Broncos tossed pucks out of play to relieve the pressure, but the Wolves kept coming. Humboldt weathered the storm and turned things around on La Ronge, holding tough pressure on La Ronge for the next ten minutes or so. Once the Broncos got their footing in the game, they controlled the play by pressuring the Wolves into a lot of giveaways and mistakes. In the first period, the Wolves did great job of recovering, and though they were outshot, they weren't really out-chanced. The Wolves took back momentum late in the period and on the powerplay, Marc-Andre Carre sniped his first of the post-season to give La Ronge a 1-0 with 12 seconds left in the opening frame.
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.
It's amazing the difference 24 hours can make in Junior Hockey.
I'm not going to spend a ton of time on the 8-2 game. It was probably the Wolves worst game of the 2011-12 season, matched maybe only by the 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Notre Dame Hounds at the Mel. Both brutal games for the Wolves, though the Humboldt loss a little more pronounced.
Pretty much everything that could go wrong did for La Ronge. The perfect summary was the Broncos' eighth goal of the game when it bounced in front of Myles Hovdebo and took a wild bounce to the right and into the goal. The Wolves were completely unprepared for a Humboldt team that certainly requires everything you have, and a little more.
The Canalta Cup (then Credit Union) hasn't let the Bauer Conference for five years. The Ice Wolves managed the repeat the last couple of seasons while the Broncos owned the Provincial Crown for the three years before that. On the way to their first SJHL Title, the Ice Wolves had to overcome the Champs on the journey, and now, the same will have to be true for the Humboldt Broncos if they want to raise the Cup.
The Ice Wolves challenge is clear. Defeat the RBC Cup hosts who are ranked third in the country, didn't lose to the Wolves all year and was one point shy of a 90 point season. The Ice Wolves will have to, in a sense, slay the dragon to try and match the Broncos and their threepeat.
There are a lot of fun story lines in this matchup. The relationship between the coaches, the whole previous champs thing, the RBC Cup on the horizon for the Broncos. Obviously, by the regular season stats, the Ice Wolves are up against it. That's the beauty of the playoffs, it doesn't matter in the least. We'll still pour over the regular season in this breakdown of course, and reference those numbers repeatedly during the series, but it doesn't really matter. That will be the mentality from the Ice Wolves perspective. The Broncos would be happy for the regular season to carry over into the playoffs and continue their domination of the Wolves. How will it go down? The beauty of it is we don't have to wait long at all to find out.
The Ice Wolves accomplished the task set out before them in Flin Flon Monday night. They went in looking to get out of the Survivor Series in three games and avoid giving any momentum back to the Bombers on home ice. A solid 3-1 victory got the job done and the Wolves ousted their Northern rivals from the post season for the third straight year.
It was a pretty convincing victory despite how close the score was. The Wolves really controlled the play to start the game and it was key in the victory. Byron Sorenson got the Wolves an early lead and things looked pretty good. The Ice Wolves kept pressing their advantage, but a couple Bomber powerplays turned things around for the home side. Despite looking a little uncomfortable between the pipes, Alex Rajotte held the Bombers off the scoresheet with some help from his defence.
The second period had the Bombers playing with more jump to start the frame than the first, but the Wolves weathered the storm and pressed back the other way. The penalty kill was called upon frequently and did a fantastic job of shutting down the Bombers. Towards the end of the period, the Ice Wolves took another penalty and something interesting would happen. Alex Vandenameele took a boarding penalty with 1:36 remaining in the second. The Wolves got to the break still leading 1-0, the game clock showed 23 seconds remaining on the PK. The penalty was run down over the intermission so the score clock could time the break. When the teams came back, though, 36 seconds went up for the remaining time on the penalty kill. Oops. So the Bombers had an extra 13 seconds to work with on the man advantage, but it was the Ice Wolves who would benefit. Nathan Boyer stole the puck and at the Wolves blue-line and raced in alone on Devin Buffalo. The Bomber goalie stopped Boyer's first chance, but Boyer buried the rebound to give the Ice Wolves the 2-0 lead. If that timing mistake isn't there, we can be reasonably (not 100%) certain Boyer doesn't score at that point. Both teams would have been in different set ups with the penalty having closed off ten seconds ago. What looked like a bad break for La Ronge, turned around on the Bombers.
Flin Flon, knowing the season was in jeopardy, turned up the heat. The physical game ramped up and you could sense the desperation. The Bombers just couldn't seem to gain any purchase, though, and Aaron Enns iced the game with an empty netter in the final couple minutes. Riley Storzuk gave Bomber fans something to cheer about, breaking the Alex Rajotte shutout bid with 16 seconds left in the contest.
The Ice Wolves never trailed on the scoreboard in the series as they move on to face the Humboldt Broncos and will try to upset the third ranked team in the country. The Wolves are no stranger to upsetting the first place team coming out of the survivor series. They accomplished that exact feat two years ago when they came out of the Survivor Series (against Humboldt) and beat the Bombers who were in first. Two players still remain from that team in Carre and Enns while Hladun and Boyer were around the team as AP's.
The Conference Semi-Finals get going for all four series' Friday night. Both Friday and Saturday's game will be broadcast on MBC as the Ice Wolves look to win their first game of the season against Humboldt. The Wolves need to win at least one game at the Elgar Peterson Arena to complete the upset and their best chance may be Game 1 with the Broncos coming off a long layoff.
I'll have a series preview up ahead of Game 1.
The Ice Wolves got off to a great start on home ice in the Survivor Series with a pair of wins on home ice to start out the playoffs. Friday's contest started out fast and furious with the Wolves getting the better of the early action, but letting their foot off the gas nearly cost them as the Bombers pulled themselves back into the contest. The Wolves collected themselves in time and took the 5-4 win, but it was clear what the Wolves needed to improve on. To gain playoff success, the Wolves need to put the pedal down and finish games out.
Saturday's game started slow, but the Wolves made adjustments in the second period and again came out on the right side of a flurry of action. A 4-1 lead after two periods quickly became 5-1 when Nathan Boyer scored his second of the game 20 seconds into the third. The game quieted from there until the Wolves popped another two on the powerplay, late, when the Bombers got into penalty trouble. A 7-1 beat down gave the Wolves their 2-0 lead in the series and showed they have the killer instinct to put teams away.
Also important for La Ronge, they were able to put some pucks behind Devin Buffalo in the third period. After allowing the fifth goal Friday, Buffalo shut down the Wolves for the remainder of that game and when he stepped in for Andy Desautels in the second Buffalo was fantastic as well. The third period marked a return to the norm for the Ice Wolves when they were able to get three by him at the Mel. A confident Devin Buffalo would be bad news for the Wolves heading to the Whitney Forum. Obviously the choice by Mike Reagan to put Desautels between the pipes for Game 2 will generate some discussion and I'll be sure to get his thoughts on the decision tonight in the pregame show.
It's finally that time of year again. The time of year when glory and gut wrenching disappointment are separated by a razor thin line. One goal/penalty/save can mean the difference between heading home in February or playing until May.
Ten teams will become eight, will become four, then two and finally one will remain... until it becomes two, then one, then five and so forth (man Junior A playoffs are complicated). Today's focus is on the ten becoming eight bit, and more importantly the fourth and fifth place teams battling to be fourth and earn a date with the Humboldt Broncos. I'm not a huge fan of the format, and I know any team that has ever finished fourth will agree, it's not much fun to play for spot you've already earned. That said, the Survivor series generally presents some very intriguing and entertaining hockey. Take last year's Bauer Conference victory by the Bombers, or the Bruins' dramatic OT win in game five over the Millionaires in the Sherwood series.
Combine the Survivor Series and the War in the North and you have the makings of a darn good series (not to mention something that sounds like a WWE pay-per-view). Some may call it a "healthy dislike" (Bob Beatty) others, may comment that they've hated the Bombers since the first meeting of the season (Pavlo Zerebecky). Any way you say it, the Wolves and Bombers have one of (if not the) nastiest rivalry in the league. 35 games including eleven playoff games in the last two years will do that to teams.
It runs through Yorkton, don't you know? The Wolves are on the ice at Farrell Agencies Arena right now getting in a full skate before we head on to Portage and the Anavet Cup.
A couple of notes, Doug Lindensmith is skating, but he's doing it back in La Ronge as the Wolves hope he can get in to the lineup sooner rather than later. After talking to him on Tuesday, he was feeling better through the day, though the sheer volume at the Mel for Game 7 was a little harsh on his head.
Robert Monfore isn't on the bus, he was banged up in the Championship Game. Don't know the severity or anything like that, but it is the infamous "lower body injury".
Practice looked good today, the guys are obviously in high spirits, but they're focused as well. They do find it a little weird being back in Yorkton and they're all running with the getting ready for "Game 8" mantra. I don't think SJHL Fans would mind seeing Yorkton and La Ronge go at it again.
I was listening through some of the audio I grabbed after the Cup presentation on Tuesday, and the quote of the night goes to Graham Smerek as he exclaimed, "I've never won anything before, this is the best feeling of my life." That interview will be up, along with the rest of the audio from the Finals soon. I've fallen behind in my uploading duties and I hope to rectify that situation ASAP.
I'll have a preview of Game 1 of the Anavet Cup online tomorrow!
I just want to get something up here seeing as it did happen this evening, the date of the posting doesn't say that, but let's just say it's a little early.
The Terriers gave the Ice Wolves a very stiff fight. In fact, they played well enough to win this game, but Adam Bartko played phenomenal and got the Ice Wolves the win.
The Terriers just didn't have an answer for the Ice Wolves line of Carre, Eggum and Herauf as they were just dynamic. I'm curious to see how the Portage Terriers react to that line, especially if they play like tonight. Wow.
The Wolves winning on home ice was spectacular. There wasn't an empty nook or cranny in the Mel tonight and that crowd was just-a-pumpin'. The moment that made it for me was when a puck was cleared with about 30 seconds to go Alex Vandenameele who was crouched behind me in the broadcast booth just screamed and leapt down the ladder and shortly after that onto the ice to join his teammates as the celebration began. The ecstatic joy of the team winning the Cup is something to behold. It's truly an honour to have been on this ride with this group of guys. The best part is, it ain't over yet.
I'll have more in the coming days, I just wanted to get this up so you didn't think I forgot about you. I'll be on a bus to Yorkton at 1:00 tomorrow (yeah, Yorkton, I thought I'd done that leg for the last time this season too) so blogging tomorrow isn't high on the list of things I need to get done.
To the Yorkton Terriers, your resolve and excellent play won't be forgotten any time soon. It was a hell of a series. To Terriers fans, you're awesome, especially those of you that made the trip(s) to La Ronge. Finally, to the Terriers moving on to new challenges within the game of hockey, and to other exploits in life good luck in all of your future endeavours!
Ice Wolves fans, enjoy this moment because it doesn't get much sweeter than this, but it can, and the Ice Wolves will do their best to make it that way before the season is done.
The Anavet Cup begins on Friday in Portage. I'll have those games on MBC Radio. Games 3, 4 and 5 are back in La Ronge, marking the return of myself and Curtis to the webcasting fray. Apparently we might be getting some new toys to play with courtesy of some nice people that run a top rate webcast in a town that starts with M. More on that when details are confirmed.
Enjoy the win!