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.
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 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.
Facing off with the Melfort Mustangs on home ice right before the playoffs was seen as a chance for the Ice Wolves to build some momentum heading into their series with the Flin Flon Bombers. The Wolves had outscored the Mustangs 18-4 on home ice entering the contest, so the optimism wasn't exactly unwarranted. However, the Wolves couldn't find a way to beat Jesse Wilkins once and went on to lose 1-0 to the Mustangs.
The Wolves managed 43 shots on Wilkins, though the total wasn't necessarily indicative of how the game rolled along. The Ice Wolves seemed to hop out of the gate strong in a period, then taper off, then pick it back up in the late stages. When it was all said and done, the Wolves probably had less than 30 minutes of solid 'Ice Wolves Hockey'. Not the way this squad is going to win games. The final stretch of games certainly wasn't a happy one for the Wolves. They enter into the playoffs having won only three games in their last ten.
The Wolves night started off pretty well with an early powerplay. Unfortunately for La Ronge, Brendan Tash was hanging out behind the Ice Wolves defence, took a lob pass and snapped a wrister by Myles Hovdebo to give the Mustangs the lead on the shorthanded goal. It was a tough goal to allow, but something the Ice Wolves could bounce back from. Wilkins proved unbeatable, though, and the Wolves would head to the break down a goal.
The second period followed a similar formula, but the Mustangs had a few great chances with the puck sitting right on the Ice Wolves goal line. Hovdebo was able to hold the puck out, though, and the Wolves managed to get to the third just needing one goal to maybe break the flood gates open.
It never happened. The Mustangs were just too solid defensively to overcome and Wilkins kept the door firmly shut. La Ronge had plenty of opportunities, but nobody was able to put one behind Wilkins. The Mustangs celebrated their thirteenth win of the season and wrapped up a disappointing year on a high note. It will be interesting to see where the organization progresses from here. They have a solid ground-work in place and look to be in a position to improve next season.
The Ice Wolves move on to the survivor series looking for a spark. The team hasn't been playing its best hockey of late, but better to get that out of the way before hitting the playoffs. They'll have a couple days of practice where they'll try and get back on track, then it's the playoff version of the War in the North.
There's a great preview of the series on SJHL.ca. I'll have my own breakdown ahead of Game 1 at the Mel Friday.
It was a wild regular season, and it will only get crazier from here as the Wolves embark on their journey to capture a third straight SJHL Championship.
The Ice Wolves put forward a very strong effort Friday night. They played a good enough game to win at the Whitney Forum, but the Hockey Gods weren't smiling on La Ronge this evening.
The Wolves jumped out to a lead courtesy of Wilson Dumais with a nice wrister from the slot. They carried the play from there, coming up with chance after chance, only to be denied by Devin Buffalo. The second period was very similar with Buffalo putting on a brilliant display for those assembled. Alex Rajotte was in fine form as well, coming up with some very challenging saves to keep the Ice Wolves in the lead.
Finally in the third period, the Ice Wolves found a way by Buffalo when Aaron Enns ripped home his 23rd of the season off a one-time feed from Marc-Andre Carre. The Ice Wolves relaxed at that point and it would cost them. They didn't play poorly down the stretch, but didn't have the same urgency to their game.
I'll start with the good, and that was the win against Melville Tuesday night. The Wolves found themselves down on multiple occaisions, but found a way to battle back.
When they ran into penalty troubles late in the third period, they battled and were rewarded with a shorthanded goal to pick up the win. It was a fast game and a blast to call. I really liked Jared Iron's game Tuesday and Wednesday, it was good to see him successful in his return to the lineup.
Wednesday's game showed me two things about the Wolves. One, they can run in a high scoring game with a high scoring team. Two, when their backs are against the wall, they can deliver. Two important traits to have when rolling into the playoffs. The win provided a lot of optimisim, expecially in their drive to gain third place in the Bauer Conference.
The same can't be said for the game in Yorkton. The Ice Wolves didn't play a poor game by any means, but it certainly wasn't a game that gave you the sense the Wolves were fighting tooth and nail for third place. The road seemed to catch up with the Wolves who were playing their fourth in five nights. Two goals in the first period certainly took some of the jump out of the Ice Wolves step. That said, the Wolves finished the period outshooting the Terriers despite trailing by two.
The Ice Wolves are off to a rough start on their final set of road games before the playoffs.
After all the bus issues of Friday and Saturday, the team arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes before puck drop (as opposed to the usual two) against the Millionaires Saturday. It was my first visit to the Horizon Credit Union Centre in Melville and it's a gorgeous facility. Not quite on the same level of splendor as Spectra Place in Estevan, but it doesn't need to be. The rink follows the now relatively standard designs of new Junior-A/small centre rinks with a bowl of seating traveling most of the way around the rink. The luxury boxes on one wall (still under construction) are mirrored by a fitness centre across the way. The one downside to the new rink is the lack of a broadcast booth. This limits the ability for Melville to host any major events like the Western Canadian Championship in the future.
Enough about the rink. The Ice Wolves rolled out to a solid start against the MIllionaires. They hit everything in sight and it was quickly evident Melville didn't want to be in that type of game. The problem for La Ronge was Alex Wakaluk. He was unreal all night and robbed the Wolves on many a chance. It took an equally impressive goal by Wilson Dumais to get the Wolves ahead going into the break.
The Ice Wolves and Hawks fought out another classic last night at the Mel. It certainly looked like they would be headed to yet another game involving extra time until an unlikely hero emerged. On a delayed penatly, Skyler Hladun got the puck back to Alex Vandenameele who walked unchallenged into the slot to snap home his first goal of the season for the Ice Wolves.
Alex Rajotte and the Wolves would hold onto that one goal edge and Brennan Wright put in an empty netter to seal the 2-0 victory. The win brings the Ice Wolves within two points of the Hawks for third place in the Bauer Conference and the Wolves still have a game in hand.
I had a nice quick blog post all done, but apparently the computer Gods decided to strike down my non-saving arrogance by deleting the post when I was a click away from finishing. So I'll give you the even shorter version of the short version.
The Ice Wolves and North Stars were very evenly matched after one period of play. The game started out with a real playoff intensity and was a treat to watch. The second period, however, would belong to the Ice Wolves.
Wolves celebrate Enns' goal
Klay Kachur actually opened the scoring for the visitors with a seeing eye shot from the half boards. The Wolves would take over from there as they peppered Graham Hildebrand with 22 shots in the frame. If not for the one they call Hildy, the Wolves could have owned a much more impressive lead than the 2-1 edge they held after two. Aaron Enns and Nathan Boyer grabbed the Wolves markers. For Boyer, it was his 20th of the season. La Ronge did pretty much everything right in the second period and really put out a workman effort, winning a lot of battles and putting a ton of pressure on the Stars.
The third period was very different as the North Stars made all all the appropriate adjustments and shut down the Ice Wolves. They didn't really dominate the Wolves like La Ronge had the second, but there was a methodical confidence about the North Stars. Battlefords just seems to be able to come up with clutch goals this season, and they got one. With eight minutes left, a fluke bouncer found its way by Myles Hovdebo to even the score at two. It was a disappointing goal for the Ice Wolves netminder who was pretty solid on the evening. Hovdebo helped get the Ice Wolves to overtime, with three huge saves down the stretch despite being in considerable discomfort after a collision with Tanner Schwab. Brody Luhning went on to score the lone goal of the shootout as the Wolves fell a full two points back of the Hawks, but gained one on the Bombers.
The Wolves can even up the standings if they can take a win from the Hawks on home ice coming up Wednesday night.
Before that, though, it's Superbowl time! I'm picking the Pats at 33-26. Who do you have?