I have a feeling if I told Ice Wolves fans their team would be down 3-2 heading back to Portage at the beginning of this series, I would have been met with astonished looks and slight ridicule.
Well, now it's a reality and I think Ice Wolves fans are, well, slightly astonished. While the Wolves played pretty well in 6-3 and 6-1 wins in Games 3 and 4, Wolves fans got a glimpse of why this team trails in the series in Game 5. A very good Portage Terriers team and a Wolves team that just doesn't have the jump they did against Flin Flon, Melfort and Yorkton.
If the Ice Wolves of the SJHL Playoffs make an appearance, we could very well be headed to a deciding Game 7. If not...
The Ice Wolves need the first goal tonight. The Terriers have scored the first goal in four out of the five games. The Ice Wolves have come back to tie the game later on in every single contest, but it takes a lot out of the team to be playing from behind all the time. Conversely, every time the Wolves have held a lead, they've won the game.
The PCU Centre was a house of horrors for La Ronge last time out. Though it's a beautiful stadium, apparently the ice gets a little rough and the puck tends to bounce around. To that end, the Wolves need to keep things simple. It was clear last weekend, the fancy little passing plays at the Portage blue-line weren't going to work as the puck wouldn't settle down for the Wolves. Chip and Chase is what Bob Beatty preaches, and the Wolves top lines need to take the example of the third and fourth lines to do that. I'm not saying they can't get creative, but get the puck deep and go from there. The Wolves top line is very effective down low, and while they score a lot of fantastic goals on the rush, if the play ain't there, I think they'll get more chances if the puck goes deep.
After playing very well the third period of Game 3 and a strong Game 4, Adam Bartko had a tough outing in the first and second periods of Game 5. Ironically enough, he was at his best in the third when the Terriers scored a couple of goals. Bartko got the Wolves by Melfort and Yorkton, and La Ronge needs a little bit of that strong play right now. They don't need him to steal a win, though I'm sure they would take it, just to be solid and give them a chance to win.
Shots, Shots and more shots. The Wolves only came up with six shots in the third period of Game 5 and 27 overall. When the Wolves won their two games, they had over 30 shots. In the three losses, 25, 26, 27 respectively. The Wolves need to make Jason Kasdorff work in the net. He was solid in the second period of Game 5, and definitely set the Terriers up for success, but he is beatable and the Wolves proved that in Game 4.
It's tough to say if the Terriers really need to improve anything. They've come out and given pretty much the same thing every night. They don't have the superstars that La Ronge features, but they do have some good scoring threats and one of the best lunch-bucket attitudes I've seen in a team for a while. They work and work and work like nobody's business. They don't get a lot of pretty goals, but they get the goals regardless. They're winning battles and faceoffs. It's not hard to see why they're in the position they're in. The thing that really needs to improve, though, is the special teams. It's amazing they're in control of the series with powerplay of 5%... yes 5%. That goes along with a penalty kill of 69.7%. Usually special teams decides a series, it did for La Ronge in the SJHL playoffs, but the numbers definitely aren't showing the winner at the moment. Will it catch up to the Terriers this weekend?
Players to Watch
Marc-Andre Carre (F) - The SJHL's premier talent hasn't been running on all cylinders this series. It seems like he's trying to do too much with the puck and he's not utilizing his linemates like he usually does. Could it be a result of scouts in the building? One thing's for sure, the Ice Wolves need M-A-C to be the MVP this weekend.
Doug Lindensmith (F) - With seven assists in his first two games back from his concussion, Lindensmith was a big part of the Wolves offence. In Game 5 he didn't put up any points and took himself out of the game with a checking from behind penalty in the third period. Look for him to be playing with a lot of jump.
Aaron Enns (F) - Another great game from Enns in this drive for the Anavet Cup. He's been one of the Wolves most consistent players during the playoffs and he has some big goals to his name. Enns could be the Ice Wolves hero again tonight.
Tyler Moore (F) - Curtis picked up on it during the broadcast of Game 4 and 5, Moore doesn't have the same jump or speed that he had early. Could the Terriers top scorer be nursing an injury? He still managed to score in Game 5, but a reduction in his speed definitely hurts Portage.
Jason Kasdorf (G) - One of the other players in this series the scouts are out to see, Kasdorf was solid in Game 5. If the Ice Wolves come out with the fire I hope to see tonight, he will need to be more than solid. This young goalie will have a fair amount of pressure on him in the next game or possibly two.
Kajon McKay (F) - He's been out in shut down roles and on the penalty kill. His speed helps cut down on Ice Wolves chances and has more than once caused problems for La Ronge as they try to exit the zone. McKay will need to be at his forechecking best to help the Terriers along to the RBC Cup.
I'll have the broadcast of tonight's game starting at 6:15 Saskatchewan time with the pre-game show. The puck drops at 6:30 as the Wolves look to extend the series to a seventh and deciding game. This is the first time the Wolves have faced an elimination game where they don't have the chance to win it as well (Game 7 against Yorkton). We'll see what they bring to the PCU Centre tonight, it's sure to be an exciting game.
Enjoy Game 6!