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Saints one step away from junior heaven

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This Manitoba Junior Hockey League season has been all about timing for the Winnipeg Saints.


The Saints, who played all year in the Addison Division, took advantage of the league’s cross-over system to turn a fifth-place finish into a Sher-Wood Division championship.


The club’s regular-season total of 74 points would have been good for second place in the Sher-Wood Division, and earned it a spot in the post-season.


The Saints went on a roll, winning series against the Dauphin Kings and OCN Blizzard to clinch a spot in the Turnbull Cup final against the defending-champion Portage Terriers. No previous cross-over team had ever won a playoff series in the MJHL. The Terriers led the final 1-0 at press time.


Head coach and general manager David Anning said the turning point for his team—which made a new home at the St. James Civic Centre this season—was a solid showing in February that saw the team go 9-2-1 despite a rash of injuries.


"We were short-staffed at times," Anning said, "but we found ways to get the job done. We were down eight skaters at one point, but it gave an opportunity to guys to step up and take on bigger roles."


Those young players not only earned the Saints some wins down the stretch, but also gained valuable experience logging more minutes of ice-time in key situations.


"It helped a lot of guys out," Anning said. "Seeing the success we had at a difficult part of the year to get wins, it gave the group a lot of reason to believe in themselves."


Once the Saints got back to full strength, they began to play their best hockey of the season.

Even though the Saints were fifth in their division, captain Brett Chartier said they had no shortage of confidence heading into the playoffs.


"Our record with all the top teams was pretty much dead even with all of them," said the 20-year-old forward from Southdale. "We just wanted to do the best we could, and it turned out we made some damage."


The Saints and Terriers split their eight-game season series, setting up what Chartier is expecting to be a tight battle.


"I think we have another gear to give," said Chartier, who scored 33 goals and added 34 assists during the regular season. "I think that playing Portage we match up pretty well. Both teams will bring their game to the next level."


Anning expects his team to use its regular-season success against the Terriers, and the familiarity of eight previous games, to give Portage everything it can handle. The coach said the teams have enough similarities to make for a long series.


"Both teams have a lot of skill up front," Anning said. "Both forward groups are pretty talented. I liked the team’s game against Portage throughout the year."


The teams play Game 3 in Portage at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Game 4 at the St. James Civic Centre on Saturday at the same time. The full schedule is available at www.mjhlhockey.ca.

 

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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