As the cliché goes, "The fourth is always the toughest win." That even proved true in a series that was a complete blowout (see Terriers/Klippers). The Ice Wolves might say it doesn't get much tougher than what they pulled off in Melfort at the Northern Lights Palace during the week.
A come from behind win and a win while being heavily out shot. Now back in the friendly and deafening confines of the Mel, the Ice Wolves have a chance to repeat as Bauer Conference Champs setting up a rematch of last years SJHL Final. The Mustangs, however, will do everything in their considerable power to prevent that from happening.
Read on for my preview of Game 5.
The final minutes of Game 4, after Logan Herauf stretched the score to 3-1, were very telling. They showed a Mustangs team that was completely deflated and defeated. There was a spark in the final two minutes, but it was quickly snuffed out by the Wolves as Melfort spent much of the final minute in their own end defending an empty net.
The question is, can they turn it around? Coaches preach having a short memory, especially in the playoffs. How tough is it to forget two games when you played well enough to win, outplayed the opposition for much of the game, but found yourself losing two games on home ice? You're battered and bruised, some important players are out of the lineup, including your Captain, and now you have to go to a rink where people throw fish on the ice. Oh ya, and you're in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs.
I think we can all agree that's not a happy situation for any club, that "us against all the problems in our world" mentality can definitely turn the tide. This is where the strength of the Mustangs locker room will be truly tested. Can the team that came together relatively late in the season pull together? Talking to a couple of the Mustangs during the week, the locker room is healthy and everyone understands their role. Coach Darrell Mann will be tested tonight to keep his team focused if they get behind.
The possibility of playing from behind is definitely there. The Ice Wolves have scored first in every game of the series so far. The Mustangs have fought back well, winning Game 1, getting a lead in Game 3 and tying Game 4. If the Wolves can put together 60 minutes, which they've only accomplished once in a 4-0 Game 2 win, it could be tough for the 'Stangs to come out with a win.
This is a chance for the Ice Wolves to once again show some of the killer instinct they displayed in Game 5 against Flin Flon or even Game 4 of this series. In a perfect world for La Ronge, they would come out with another stretched out win, much like in Game 2. Why's that? There's a team in Yorkton right now with their eyes on this series. Gauging what happens from here out. The Wolves would love to give the Terriers something to think about for the next week or so. That said, the Mustangs aren't going to just step aside and say, "Oh, you want to go to the Finals, and you want to blow us out? Ok!" They will do their best to take at least a measure of revenge for the Ice Wolves snagging games in Melfort.
Much like it was coming into this series, this game is hard to judge. The games count could just as easily be 3-1 for Melfort with how the contests went through the first four. Both teams have great skill, solid blue lines and good goalies. They can blow a game wide open, or play in a tight one goal game. The equality of the teams has been on display for four games now, and I doubt it will change for the fifth.
With the teams so equal, the defining factor tonight will be intensity. Will the Ice Wolves play tonight pleased with themselves for being up 3-1? Or will they be hungry to move on to the SJHL Finals? Will the Mustangs come into the Mel thinking, "We could be up 3-1"? Or will they play to make it 3-2? In every conversation I've had with the coaches they mention their intensity whether good or bad as the reason for a win or loss. Oh intangibles... you make life so interesting.
Players to Watch
Skyler Hladun (F) -They may have spelt his name wrong on the website and his hockey card for most of the season, but it's correct now, and that's a good thing because it's on the scoresheet a lot right now. He has three goals in his last three games and is a force in front of the net on the Wolves top powerplay unit.
Justin Ducharme (F) - We didn't see a lot from Ducharme in his first game back. Is he 100%? Not sure, he came back pretty quick after painfully blocking a shot in Game 1. He started the playoffs on a scoring tear, and the Wolves need that energy back if they are going to finish it tonight.
Dayton Fossum (D) - The Ice Wolves Most Outstanding Defenceman has been near-perfect in this series. With the exception of one nice play by Brody Haygarth, Fossum has turned away all challengers one on one and is creating a lot of transition offence with his skating ability. You want intensity? Fossum brings it every night... big time.
Charles Corsi (G) - His third time as a player to watch in this series. Why tonight? Because he has been shaky in the series. The Mustangs MVP got them to the post season and rolled on by Humboldt. He's been having trouble with La Ronge though. The 'Stangs need an inspired effort from their goalie to come back in this series.
Owen Roschuk (F) - Will he or won't he play? He was out of the lineup with a pretty tough injury for Game 4. Can he play through the pain, or is the injury hampering him too much to play? There are lots of questions around the Mustangs Captain. His team could use his services, but if he can't physically play, he will be kept out of the lineup.
Brayden Metz (F) - The big deadline acquisition for the Mustangs has one point in the series. He wasn't all that visible in the third period for the Mustangs and needs to step up his game going forward if there's to be hope in Melfort.
Metz isn't alone in the non-scoring category... Jesser Mireau boasts only one point, Brody Haygarth, while he's scored a couple massive goals, has only those to his name. After ripping through Humboldt, Sean Aschim has only a goal and an assist. The list goes on, Cody Hanson has only that breakaway goal in Game one under his belt. Where are the Mustangs' big guns? They've done a reasonably solid job slowing down and holding the Ice Wolves off the board, but when you look at the scoring deficiencies for the Mustangs, someone needs to step up.
A lot of credit for scoring woes of the Mustangs needs to go to the defence of the Wolves. Even though they've looked a little tentative with the puck in their own end at times this series; they've been great without it. Rarely has a Wolves defenceman been out of place in the last three games. Credit is also due to the third and fourth line of the Ice Wolves who haven't given the Mustangs top lines much to work with.
It's all or nothing time for Melfort tonight, and guess what? I have the call along with Curtis "Shortly to be Nicknamed" Skalicky on LiveSports.com tonight. The puck drops on Game 5 at 7:30, with questions about intensity of both squads to be answered shortly after.
Speaking of Curtis, check out the poll on the side-bar and vote on what his new nickname should be. I'll announce the winning name in overly grandiose fashion on the broadcast tonight.
Word is that the La Ronge fire department dropped off an old siren and set of lights at the Mel yesterday. Word is also said siren is very, very loud. On an unrelated note, have you heard the Bird is the Word?
Enjoy the game!!