The Charleswood Hawks and the Raiders Junior Hockey Club had a lengthy wait to find out their opponents in the MMJHL semifinals, but neither team was complaining.
The top two finishers in the regular season standings — the Hawks were 37-4-4 while the Raiders were 33-9-3 — swept their way through the first round of the playoffs, and were waiting for the results of Tuesday night’s Game 7 between the River East Royal Knights and the Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins to figure out what the second round had in store for them.
Raiders captain Cam Hildebrand said there were benefits to having a wait, including having the time to get in some much-needed rest.
"I think winning 4-0 gives you an advantage," said the West Kildonan resident, whose club took care of business against the St. Boniface Riels. "You get a little bit of rest and a couple practices in before the next round. It’s definitely a positive."
Stephen George, the head coach of the four-time defending champion Hawks, agreed.
"It’s probably better to get (the first-round series) over with quicker," George said. "If you have bumps and bruises they can have a chance to heal, you can have some practices to work on some things to improve on, and you can get out and maybe scout your opponents."
If the Twins complete their comeback from a 3-1 deficit, they’ll face the Raiders in one semifinal series, while the Hawks will take on the Pembina Valley Twisters, who needed five games to finish off the St. James Canucks.
If the Royal Knights score the upset, they’ll face the Hawks, while the Twisters will be matched up against the Raiders.
Hildebrand and his teammates have been waiting all year for a chance to avenge last year’s semifinal series, which the Twins won in overtime of the seventh game.
"We’re ready to take on whoever it may be," Hildebrand said. "After last year, taking on the Twins again was something we were anticipating we’d get to do, but we’re going to take whatever comes to us and play the same way."
The only way to win a championship is to eventually beat the Hawks, a task much easier said than done. George’s job is to convince his players that they are beatable; that they’ll need to bring their best effort to the rink to keep advancing.
The coach believes the quality of play in the MMJHL, from top to bottom, is at its highest level in many years.
"The parity in our league this year is a lot better than in years past," he said. "First and foremost, that’s a credit to the players. There’s a lot of talent in the league that maybe we don’t get credit for."
George said many fans would be surprised to see the speed and skill level on display in the league, as more and more quality players choose to play in the MMJHL while going to school or working full time.
Complete semifinal schedules are available at www.mmjhl.ca.