One thing was instantly apparent when the puck dropped on Game 1 of the SJHL Finals between the Ice Wolves and Terriers. This is going to be a fantastic series to watch.
The speed of play is unreal, and it showcases just how good these two teams are. Animosity was evident from the puck drop and the intensity of the first few minutes was through the roof. The near sold out crowd at the Mel Heglund Uniplex, apparently the highest attendance figure ever for an Wolves game, was right into it. The Terriers fans in the building were loud too, making for a great atmosphere.
The Ice Wolves scored first and it really seemed the determining point of the 5-2 win for La Ronge.
Travis Eggum opened the scoring on a nice move in front of Devin Peters at 11:20 of the first. The goal really seemed to take a load off the Wolves and they were off and running. They would get up to a three goal lead before Kyle Mcleod got the Terriers on the board after picking a puck up in the slot on a rebound Adam Bartko kicked out into the slot. In fact, the Terriers fourth line would do all of the damage on the night with Mcleod scoring again in the third.
The Terriers wouldn't be able to recover from allowing the first three goals, though, and Nolan Souchotte's empty netter with about twenty seconds left sealed game one for the Ice Wolves.
Both goalies played pretty well in this one. Peters did allow four but a couple were on scrambles in front of him or nice plays. The only one he might want back was Robert Monfore's wrister from the right face-off circle, but it was a pretty nice shot. Aside from a couple rebound control problems for Bartko, he was solid again for the Ice Wolves, making 32 saves on 34 shots.
The penalty kills from both teams were very solid as neither powerplay could find a way to score. They both came very close, but either one of the goalies or the killers was there to stop the play or get the puck down the ice.
Talking to some people around the Terriers last night, they didn't feel they came with the intensity needed to win the game. They definitely had it through the early stages of the game, but the first Ice Wolves goal seemed to take some bite out of Yorkton's game. After the game, the Terriers didn't look down about the loss, they looked mad. So that bodes well for a better effort from Yorkton in Game 2. The Ice Wolves will likely have to weather a storm in the early going, and once again, the first goal will be huge.
It will be interesting to see what Bob Beatty does with his lineup for Game 2. Will Nick Keller sit again as the odd 20-year-old out? Or will he draw back in? I think it would be tough to change up the lines after last night's strong effort. I really liked the Cliche/Enns/Hladun line. Enns and Hladun created some definite size mismatches along the boards, and with Cliche dishing the puck it was a very good line. The second unit of Ducharme/Dieno/Lindensmith also functioned very well and picked up quite a few chances.
For Yorkton, this series could be lost along the boards. From what I saw last night, the Ice Wolves won around 80% of the battles along the boards. Whether it was the lack of intensity that the Terriers were talking about, or the Ice Wolves just have a better game along the boards; Yorkton will need to concentrate on either keeping the puck moving or just slugging it out with the Wolves down low.
As kind of an extension of the board game, the Wolves controlled the physical play as well. The moment that really stands out is when Skyler Hladun trucked right over Brant Remenda. The 20-year-old veteran didn't like it one bit so he challenged Hladun, who initially declined. Remenda didn't take no for an answer as he dropped his gloves and grabbed Hladun. Remenda should have let it go. I don't think he expected Hladun to drop his gloves and get the first punch off as quick as he did and it led to Hladun pummelling Remenda and working the crowd after the linesmen got in a broke up the fight with Remenda jersied (despite having his strap on) and on the ice.
I really liked how Yorkton's fourth line played in Game 1. They didn't get many shifts at all, but managed to score both goals. They keep it simple and were winning battles along the boards. That's how they fabricated the second goal. It probably wouldn't hurt Trent Cassan to give McLeod/Dumais/Lamontagne some more ice time in Game 2.
1. Graham Smerek - LR - 1 G, 1 A - He was all over the place playing on a line with Nolan Souchotte and Taylor Piller. He had a great chance on a breakaway that he couldn't convert, but came right back and scored what would be the game winner. He was also my first victim for a rinkside interview and did a pretty solid job.
2. Kyle McLeod - YKTN - 2 G - He had a knack for being in the right place at the right time in Game 1. Both his goals came from the slot as the puck went straight to him. Tallying his first two of the playoffs, he helped earn his line serious consideration for more ice time.
3. Adam Bartko - LR - 32/34 Svs - Another solid night for Bartko shows the week off didn't cool him down from the Melfort series. He looks very confident in net right now and continues to play better than he has at any point this season. It could be a long series for Yorkton shooters.
Like I said, expect the Dogs to come out firing in Game 2. They know the importance of not heading back to the FA Arena down 2-0. I'm expecting a furious game tonight with some awesome speed and great chances. Both goalies are going to have to be on their toes.
Access 7 has the broadcast online and for Access subscribers while GX94 has the radio call with Craig Stein. If the plan stays the same, I'll be interviewing Terriers players at the intermissions tonight. Otherwise, it's another night of twitter updates and not knowing what do do with myself. Though, it was nice to just watch a game and enjoy the atmosphere of the SJHL Finals.
Enjoy Game 2!