PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Once again, the portrait of Manitoba junior hockey dominance is painted with broad strokes of green and yellow.
For the fourth time in five seasons, the Portage Terriers are crowned Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions, beating the Winnipeg Saints 2-1 in Game 5 of the MJHL championship series at the Portage Credit Union Centre Tuesday night.
Not only does Portage win the best-of-seven series 4-1, they also can claim status as one of the more convincing franchises in recent memory. One has to go back to the days of the OCN Blizzard (five straight titles from 1999-2003) to recount a firmer grip on the Turnbull Trophy.
"You get the new guys in and the old guys seem to know what it takes," said Blake Spiller, the humble coach who has been behind the bench for all four titles. "We just seemed to score goals in these playoffs at opportune times and got good goaltending, because we definitely didn’t outplay teams."
Portage, the top club in the MJHL during the regular schedule, went 12-3 this post-season.
Forward Kajon McKay, who had seven points in the championship series, said being a part of the juggernaut is addictive: Once guys get a taste of the success, they want to keep drinking it. "Every year we lose guys and Blake knows what to do and knows what guys to pull in," he said after earning his second straight title.
"We’re expected to win, but I wouldn’t (call) it pressure," captain Andrew Wiebe added. "It’s extremely contagious; you want it more and more... even after you won."
The Terriers controlled most of the play through the first 40 minutes, outshooting the Saints 22-17, but only had one goal to show for it.
Forward Brendan Harms was johnny-on-the-spot when he cashed in a rebound chance past Saints netminder Teagan Sacher with 5:08 to play in the first period.
Sacher, who made 28 saves, stood tall after that, though, thwarting the Terriers on a number of good chances — the best save coming when he stoned McKay on a short-handed 2-on-1 later in the second frame.
After Harms scored midway into the third — his sixth goal of the final — Saints forward Corey Petrash beat goaltender Adam Iwan through the pads to make for a nervous final six minutes of action for the 1,364 in attendance.
Iwan, who bounced around from club to club during his amateur hockey career and only got the opportunity to protect the Portage net thanks to an injury to Shea Cooper, said backstopping the Terriers to another title was something special.
"This is great. It just kind of shows to everyone who cut me or traded me or sat me on the bench that I can do it," the 18-year-old said. "I’ve known it in myself the whole time."
Iwan made 22 saves Tuesday night.
The Terriers now advance to the ANAVET Cup where they’ll match up against the winner of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League final.
Heading into Tuesday, the best-of-seven series between the Humboldt Broncos and Weyburn Red Wings was tied 2-2.
Should Humboldt win the SJHL crown, the Terriers would gain an automatic berth into the RBC Cup, as Humboldt is hosting the national junior A hockey championship this year.
The ANAVET Cup begins April 20 in Saskatchewan.
NOTE: The Terriers were without defenceman Dylan Butler (knee) Tuesday. The Thunder Bay, Ont., product had six points in the first four games of the series. Spiller said he might not be ready for the ANAVET series.