Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fierce rivals in rematch

Raiders battle Kodiaks to earn right to contest provincial title

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So it's to be a rematch for the River East Kodiaks and Oak Park Raiders today as they head into battle at Gateway Arena in Manitoba's top high school hockey semifinal.

On the line is a ticket to Monday night's AAAA championship final at St. James Civic Centre.

For the Kodiaks, it's a chance to finish what they started last month when they knocked the Raiders out of the Winnipeg High School Hockey League semifinal series.

The Kodiaks then roared into the provincial championship after falling to St. Paul's in the city finals.

"We beat them. Now is the chance to beat 'em again," Kodiaks coach Ben Zajac said Friday night after River East clinched first place in their pool with a 3-0 win over the Dauphin Clippers. "We know it's going to be a test to come out successful."

The Kodiaks already faced a heck of a test in the preliminary round Friday, when they locked horns with the Kelvin Clippers.

Those teams pushed a 1-1 tie past 10 minutes of overtime and into a heart-stopping shootout that saw 11 shooters from each side.

Shootout hero

The shootout hero for the Kodiaks: Chase Beach-Ducharme, the youngest player on the roster.

"This one was very nerve-wracking," Zajac said.

"The guys were just ecstatic when Chase scored."

The Kelvin team, which beat Dauphin 6-1 on Friday, will face the WHSHL champion St. Paul's Crusaders at 1:45 p.m. today at Gateway in the other provincial semifinal.

Both big contests are shaping up as a fierce battle.

The Raiders turned out well in their Friday-morning game against the Crusaders, striking first on a goal from Shane Kustra-Nelson.

St. Paul's responded just over 11 minutes later with a late first-period marker from Alex Bouchard.

The teams would carry that 1-1 tie deep into overtime, where St. Paul's Ryan Hutton, the WHSHL's leading scorer, potted the game-winner to lift the Crusaders to a 2-1 victory.

The St. Paul's squad would later beat the Morden Thunder 8-2, and the Raiders edged the Thunder 3-1 to round out their preliminary pool games.

With those results, the stage was set for today's semifinals.

Though the Raiders will no doubt be raring for another chance to go bear hunting, Zajac likes what he sees in his own battle-tested Kodiaks squad.

"We're pretty comfortable in our skin right now," Zajac said.

"The boys can handle the pressure, they really can. We've matured a lot, we play with a lot more confidence, and they believe in themselves a lot more. They've bought in."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 C12

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