Yup, we rolled into Portage last night and enjoyed some late night pizza for some snackage. Now the guys are on the ice as they prepare for tonight's opening game against the Terriers. As they take care of that, I'm getting settled into my home (media room) for the next 2-4 road games.
Both teams are relatively mysterious to each other having never played eachother. Some of the players know each other and both coaches managed to catch one of the others' games, but beyond that... mysterious! (add in some crime drama music there or something)
Read on for my preview of Game 1 of the 2011 Anavet Cup.
Both of these teams are champions, that's obvious and a necessary requirement for being in this series, but it also means both of these teams are aware of what it takes to win. Many of the Ice Wolves have made the trip to the Anavet Cup and know how to deal with the sheer excitement of winning the SJHL Championship. They have an ultimate goal, and that's the RBC Cup. This is another challenge along the way, and it should be a doozy. (is that how you spell doozy?)
If you're reading this blog, you're likely familiar with the Ice Wolves so I'll start with what I know about the Terriers, which isn't a whole ton. We'll let Head Coach, Blake Spiller fill in the holes during the pre-game show.
The Terriers are a fairly young team. They do feature seven 20-year olds, but their to two regular season scorers are 17 (Brent Wold) and 16 (Brendan Harms). There are a quite a few seventeen year olds on this squad compared to one on the Ice Wolves (Rhyse Dieno). It will be interesting to see what wins out. The experience that comes along with the ten 20's on the Ice Wolves against the youth of the Terriers. It sounds funny to talk about that when these are all still pretty young players, but it's amazing the difference a season makes. Just ask Dayton Fossum or Travis Eggum.
The Terriers don't feature the prolific scoring that the Ice Wolves put out on their first line, but they have a very balanced attack which is equally as dangerous. Six players on Portage racked up 20 goals during the regular season, led by Harms who had 28 tucks in 59 games. The Terriers get some added offence from the blue-line with defenceman Mike Gemmell, who notched 14 in 55 regular season games. Looking at the Terriers' playoff stats, it's more of the same. Nine players have over ten points, though only one has 20. Tyler Moore ('90), one of the veteran leaders on Portage leads with those 20 points (9 G, 11 A) in 17 games through the playoffs.
Unfortunately, defence is kind of tough to judge through stat sheets, but looking at their goals against, they were tied with OCN during the regular season for the least goals allowed in the MJHL with only 164 against in 62 games.
The goalie stats are impressive as well and probably a big part of that low goals against. Jason Kasdorf and Kirk Coswell split the duties in the Regular Season, but posting GAA's of 2.53 and 2.75 respectively to go with .912 and 907 save percentages. Eighteen year old Kasdorf got the bulk of the starts in the regular season with a record of 24-10. In the playoffs, Kasdorf does have more starts, but it was Coswell who won all four games against Selkirk. It's likely we'll see both in this series.
*Kasdorf is ranked 10th among North American Goaltenders for the upcoming NHL Draft, which is pretty cool, congrats to him and hopefully his name gets called.
In the playoffs, the Terriers special teams have been two different stories. The powerplay is rolling along at a 27.8% clip for the playoffs and is a staggering 56.3% on home ice. The penalty kill has been Portage's Achilles heel this post season with a 73.8% kill rate. That said, they haven't been taking many penalties on home ice only being shorthanded 8 times. That's a good thing because they have 5 powerplay goals against out of those eight times.
If you're a Terriers fan making your way to my happy little blog, welcome to the party. (not really a party)
The Ice Wolves feature a more offensively skilled team than they have in the past. During the regular season, it was Travis Eggum, Marc-Andre Carre and Doug Lindensmith taking the SJHL to task combining for 310 points during the regular season. While it may appear the Wolves are a one line team, it's a common mistake.
Each Wolves line brings its own look to the ice, while the top line took the most of the scoring load, the second line has rolled through multiple members due to injuries and such, but can be every bit as dangerous as the top line. The mainstay third and fourth line have been giving top scorers fits all season. The 20-year old line of Taylor Piller, Nolan Souchotte and Nick Keller bring a lot of experience to the table. All three are multiple time champions and should the Ice Wolves win, it will be four straight RBC Cup trips for Piller.
The Ice Wolves defence is led by Dayton Fossum. The SJHL Co-Playoff MVP was a depth player for La Ronge last season, but had a couple years to learn from Dustin Stevenson, who signed an NHL contract last season with the Washington Capitals and played for their ECHL affiliate, South Carolina Stingrays this season. Fossum was a force in the playoffs using his speed and skill to frustrate offences and turn the play up ice. The Wolves defence isn't the biggest around, but like their anchor, use their speed and quick sticks to break up plays.
In net, the puck stops with Adam Bartko. After sharing the duties last season with Joel Danyluk, Bartko is the main man this year. He was fantastic against Melfort in the Conference Finals and was even better in the latter stages of the SJHL Finals. It all culminated in Game 7 of the Championship Series with a brilliant 39 save performance that helped earn him Co-Playoff MVP with Dayton Fossum.
The Ice Wolves powerplay has been very good during the playoffs, scoring 26 times in 17 games including Game 5 of the SJHL Finals when it struck four times. The penalty kill was serviceable during the regular season, but it has been excellent in the post-season, at times flirting with 90%. Right now, it sits at 87.7% and was tops in the SJHL. The powerplay ran at an even 25%. Shorthanded goals have been a problem for the Ice Wolves all season, but as the guys were just saying down by the locker room, they didn't allow one against the very potent Yorkton Terriers.
From what I've heard about Portage, they're actually a similar team to La Ronge because they're quick and they work hard. If both of these teams bring that previewed work ethic, it should be a great series to decide the West Region's representative in Camrose.
I'll have the game live on MBC Radio and MBCRadio.com. It gets going at 7:30 local time, so that's 6:30 in Saskatchewan with a 6:15 pre-game show. I'll be joined on the broadcast by a familiar voice, Bill Burfoot, who was with the Ice Wolves last season before moving on to call games in the MJHL.
Taking a quick look ahead, the games in La Ronge go on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. Get your tickets early, as they are sure to be a hot commodity.
Enjoy the opener of the Anavet Cup!