Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 4/4/2019 (252 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Turnbull Cup fever has gripped hockey fans in Swan Valley and the hometown Stampeders.
"It's through the roof, there's no question," said Stamps GM and head coach Barry Wolff earlier this week from Swan River where the local heroes will host Game 2 of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League final Sunday night against the Portage Terriers.
"It's so exciting right now. You can't go anywhere without somebody talking about it. Everybody's got signs up in their windows and on the readerboards, it's all 'Go Stamps Go.' It's so rewarding for this community that's had a team for 20 years and now has a first trip to the final. (For) all the volunteers and the corporate support and the board of directors, hats off to all those people."
The Stampeders, who advanced to the final after beating the defending champion Steinbach Pistons in a closely contested six-game semifinal, have run hot since the start of the regular season and occupied first place for a time.
Beating the Pistons boosted civic pride and renewed hope for a championship.
"For Game 5 (of the semifinal), the whole arena was packed," said first-line winger Bradly Goethals, who leads all MJHL playoff scorers with 15 points, including seven goals, in 10 games. "I wish we could've pulled it off then but at least we did it in Game 6. Just going out to eat around town, people are saying how proud they are. It's been pretty awesome."
A crowd of more than 800 jammed into Centennial Arena and pushed the 50/50 jackpot to $5,500 for Game 5 against the Pistons and Wolff is expecting a crowd of about 1,000 for Game 2, including 200 crammed into standing-room-only areas around the boards.
Portage, which hosts Game 1 at Stride Place Friday night, finished the regular season in first place, six points clear of the runner-up Stamps.
The Terriers swept a quarter-final against Wayway and a semifinal with Virden, but were in serious need of a break after the latter series with the Oil Caps.
Head coach Blake Spiller, concerned about his flu-stricken squad, gave his entire team Friday and Saturday off and cancelled practice Sunday and Monday before returning to the ice Tuesday.
"They didn't really show it," said Spiller. "On the bus home from Virden Thursday night all I could hear in the back of the bus was guys coughing. I think that guys were playing through it and it's just on Sunday when we were supposed to practice, there were seven or eight guys (out). By this Friday, we could be all good. Who knows?"
What is known is Portage will be very difficult to beat.
Spiller, in his 13th season as head coach, has guided his club to a championship all seven times they have reached the final — the last coming in 2016-17 to complete a three-peat.
But the success of the current edition has been as a surprise. A youth movement was intended to prepare for hosting the RBC Cup national championship tournament in the spring of 2020.
"Obviously, the goal at the start of the season wasn't to build a first-place championship team," said veteran forward Chase Brakel, who returned to the fold after the Christmas break from Cornell University. "(Spiller) brought in a lot of young guys for next year and there were so many of them that have had such good seasons that it just kind of panned out and the team as a whole started to click... I was kind of the last piece of the puzzle to join."
Brakel leads the club's playoff scoring with two goals and 12 points in eight games and he's found an effective chemistry playing with centre Ty Barnstable, who returned recently from injury, and Jay Bucholtz.
"As time went along here after he came back from the States, we expected that he would be good after he got his game legs back," said Spiller. "We knew he was going to be a key piece for us and he is."
The Terriers are a deep group with 15 players having already scored in the post-season.
"The line with Ocean Weisblatt in middle with (Kolton) Shindle and Reece Henry was real solid and having Ty Barnstable back was big for our team," said Spiller. "His leadership and Brakel and Bucholtz were real good. I thought our back end was really solid and (Ethan) Peterson was really good in net."
The Stamps counter with Merek Pipes, who has made every start in the playoffs while the club's offence has produced to its high standards, with Goethals, Josh Tripp, Alexander Uryga, Kasyn Kruse, Matthew Osadick and Quintin Sudom all averaging better than a point per game.
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Rugged forward Tucker Scantlebury has seven goals, including two game-winners, and 42 penalty minutes.
"There's no question we had contributions from the group but Scantlebury for sure, he competes so hard, had two big goals for us (Monday) night," said Wolff, a veteran bench boss who guided the Coquitlam Express to a BCHL crown in 2013-14. "Tripp, Goethals, Osadick — our big guys were our good guys."
The schedule could give Swan Valley an early edge with only four days between games after Monday's series-clincher in Steinbach. The Terriers, meanwhile, will have gone eight days without game action.
"I think when you're off that long, even for us (the seven days) between Dauphin and Steinbach (in the quarter-final) series, we were real rusty that first game," said Wolff. "That's the problem when the other team is competing at that playoff level and you're sitting at home. You can only practise so much."
Mike Sawatzky Sports Reporter
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.