August 24, 2019

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Committing the Capitals' offence

Virden hopes red-hot scoring continues in MJHL semifinal against Portage

Kolten Kanaski is a proven scorer in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League but his work early in the 2019 playoffs has been off the charts.

The 20-year-old Virden centre scored eight times in a six-game series with the Selkirk Steelers, including five on the power play, one short-handed and three game-winners as the Oil Capitals advanced to an MJHL semifinal series against the top-seeded Portage Terriers.

A scoring error inadvertently credited another Kanaski goal to teammate Dylan Halliday but the Beausejour product isn't complaining. The Caps are rolling thanks in large part to the left-handed Kanaski's deadly touch from the right side of the Virden power play.

"I think most of (the goals) are getting it in that spot and throwing it on net and trying to beat the goaltender before he has time to set up," said Kanaski via telephone earlier this week. "It was working for the first series. Hopefully I can make that work against Portage."

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Kolten Kanaski is a proven scorer in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League but his work early in the 2019 playoffs has been off the charts.

The 20-year-old Virden centre scored eight times in a six-game series with the Selkirk Steelers, including five on the power play, one short-handed and three game-winners as the Oil Capitals advanced to an MJHL semifinal series against the top-seeded Portage Terriers.

A scoring error inadvertently credited another Kanaski goal to teammate Dylan Halliday but the Beausejour product isn't complaining. The Caps are rolling thanks in large part to the left-handed Kanaski's deadly touch from the right side of the Virden power play.

"I think most of (the goals) are getting it in that spot and throwing it on net and trying to beat the goaltender before he has time to set up," said Kanaski via telephone earlier this week. "It was working for the first series. Hopefully I can make that work against Portage."

Virden centre Kolten Kanaski scored eight times in a six-game series with the Selkirk Steelers as the Oil Capitals advanced to an MJHL semifinal series against the top-seeded Portage Terriers. (Perry Bergson / The Brandon Sun files)</p>

Virden centre Kolten Kanaski scored eight times in a six-game series with the Selkirk Steelers as the Oil Capitals advanced to an MJHL semifinal series against the top-seeded Portage Terriers. (Perry Bergson / The Brandon Sun files)

Kanaski, who skates on Virden's top line with right-winger Ben Dalke and left-winger Blake Sidoni, will probably need to be in top form to beat the Terriers. The Caps are scoring at a league-leading 33 per cent clip on the power play in the post-season after posting a 21.5 per cent mark, good for third best, during the regular season.

"Their power play is always very important for their team in all the years I can remember," said Terriers head coach Blake Spiller. "They seem to be very potent there. If you take away an option, they always seem to find another one. We'll have a plan going in, like everyone has a plan, and hopefully we can contain it and not give them too much. And hopefully our goaltending will be as solid as it's been."

Here's a preview of the MJHL's second playoff round:

Portage Terriers (1) vs. Virden Oil Capitals (5)

While the Caps were extended by the Steelers in the opening round, Portage made quick work of the Wayway Wolverines without major production from star forwards Joey Moffatt and Reilly Funk.

Instead, defenceman Sam Huston provided five power-play goals and seven points while forward Chase Brakel also chipped in with seven points, including two goals.

"Sam Huston had a real productive series for us, especially on the power play, and Chase Brakel and (forward) Jay Buchholtz (four points, two goals) were real good," said Spiller. "After that, I thought we were fine. But we definitely need more guys contributing for sure."

Spiller was hoping for a reprieve from the league on the status of veteran forward Braden Billaney, who was suspended for 18 games late in the regular season for a dangerous check from behind.

The top-seeded Portage Terriers made quick work of the Wayway Wolverines during their last series. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

The top-seeded Portage Terriers made quick work of the Wayway Wolverines during their last series. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

An appeal on the length of the suspension was rejected, so the hard-nosed Billaney will be required to sit out the final 12 games of his sentence. His absence shouldn't be underestimated.

"It's going to be a great series," said Kanaski. "I think (the loss of Billaney) is going to be pretty substantial for us. Maybe some of the younger guys won't be as scared, I should say."

The Terriers do have some good news with the expected return of forward Ty Barnstable.

"The extra time off by getting through Wayway in four games was big for him," said Spiller, noting Barnstable hasn't played since Feb. 22. "He'll definitely be ready to go for (Saturday's) Game 1."

Virden head coach Troy Leslie, meanwhile, has his own manpower concerns. No. 1 goaltender Dalton Dosch suffered a lower-body injury in Game 4 of the Selkirk series and missed Games 5 and 6. He's considered day-to-day, which could mean more work for backup Riley Wallace.

Leslie expects the Terriers to be themselves.

"A lot pressure on the puck," said Leslie. "They're obviously well-coached and they just come at you hard. They forecheck hard, their D is aggressive. We need to be ready for that type of pressure."

Swan Valley Stampeders (2) vs. Steinbach Pistons (3)

The Stampeders are making only the third trip to the second round in the franchise's 20-year history and homegrown star Josh Tripp is loving it.

"It's amazing," said Tripp, who led the league in regular-season scoring with 84 points and 36 goals in 57 games and had four goals in a four-game sweep of the Dauphin Kings to open the post-season. "I've been around the team my whole life and haven't really seen this much support very often. The rink certainly fills up more than it has in the past. People are really into the team and that's super exciting to be a part of."

Josh Tripp of the Swan Valley Stampeders led the league in regular-season scoring with 84 points and 36 goals in 57 games. He had four goals in a four-game sweep of the Dauphin Kings to open the playoffs. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Josh Tripp of the Swan Valley Stampeders led the league in regular-season scoring with 84 points and 36 goals in 57 games. He had four goals in a four-game sweep of the Dauphin Kings to open the playoffs. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

However, beating the defending Turnbull Cup champs and reaching the league final for the first time ever will be a tall order.

"They're just an all-round solid team," said Tripp. "They don't have any super high scorers or anything like that, but they all know how to play, play well together, have a great coach and their atmosphere, especially in the playoffs, makes it a hard place to play. It should be an exciting series."

Swan Valley received an unanticipated boost when forward Kasyn Kruse, an eight-goal man in the regular season, exploded for five goals, including two game-winners, and six points against the Kings.

"Well, we knew he had it in him," said Stampeders GM and head coach Barry Wolff. "The difference was he started to go to the net with a purpose and found some loose rebounds that he put in and he got himself into open ice for some other opportunities. We're really happy for him and have him contribute. I mean, you always like to have those unspoken guys step up."

In a big blow to Swan Valley's hopes, the club learned captain Jaden Townsend will be lost for the season after surgery for a torn ankle ligament and Wolff will need a big effort from his veterans to compensate.

How tough are the Pistons?

"They're well-structured and they stick to their systems and they play within those systems and that's why they have success," said Wolff. "Obviously, they have some top-end players any team in the league would like to have — (forwards Brendan) Martin and (Tyson) McConnell and on the back end they've got (Troy) Williams and (Doug) Johnson and (Matt) Radomsky in net. They'll be a good challenge for sure."

Pistons boss Paul Dyck, relieved to have Williams and Martin back from injury, hopes to have defencemen Johnson and Declan Graham back after a punishing six-game quarter-final with the Winnipeg Blues.

The Steinbach blue-liners missed significant time in the last series due to injury and their status is unknown. Dyck would like to be close to full strength when the semifinal opens in Swan River Friday night.

Steinbach Pistons' Curtis Ireland (left) and Evan Kaufman helped knock off the Winnipeg Blues in a hard-fought six-game quarter-final. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Steinbach Pistons' Curtis Ireland (left) and Evan Kaufman helped knock off the Winnipeg Blues in a hard-fought six-game quarter-final. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"They're obviously a very explosive team with a high-octane offence and we have to be very aware of that," said Dyck. "We'll have to play very close attention to their top guys and yet their depth can score as well. For us, we're going to need everybody going, we'll need all four lines and play a very sound defensive game.

"The series may look a little different that the last one we played. It was a very heavy series with the Blues and I think there will be some of that in this series... but I expect there could be more pace."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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