Aces hoping for long playoff run in first SEMHL season
Playoffs are only a month away in the South East Manitoba Hockey League (SEMHL), and the league’s newest teams look to have spots in the post-season locked up.
The Ste Anne Aces, Ile des Chenes North Stars and Red River Wild all made the leap to the league this season and all are sitting in playoff spots. With 10 teams in the league this season, the SEMHL is one of the largest intermediate senior hockey leagues in Manitoba’s history.
Eight teams will make the playoffs, with a three-game first round series, five-game second round series and a seven-game championship series on the cards.
It will be an adjustment for the Ste Anne Aces, which were perennial champions in the now-defunct Carillon Senior Hockey League. Their former league featured seven-game series throughout their playoffs.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, the first round is only a best of three so you have to ensure you’re ready, you’re prepared or your season could be over very quickly,” Aces coach/manager Kevin Lansard said.
“To have a best-of-three is a little nerve-wracking. It’s just something we’ll have to deal with.”
Despite the “scary” playoff format, playing in a new, bigger league has been an enjoyable experience for Aces players.
“Every home game we’re playing against a team for the first time,” Lansard said.
“And the road games, some of those places have really great venues. You’re running into players you’ve heard of or seen before, but never got to play against… It makes for an exciting night every night.”
Attandance has been solid in Ste Anne as well, especially at a re-scheduled game against Ile des Chenes Dec. 30. Around 250 people packed into the Ste Anne arena to watch the regional rivals play. The home team sent their fans away happy, winning 6-5.
The two teams are sitting in second and third in the SEMHL, just above a three-way tie for fourth place (and home ice in the first round of the playoffs).
“The fan-base has returned,” Lansard said.
“The numbers have grown each game, and that’s nice to see in the community.”
Teams can look very different in the playoffs in senior hockey, as when the games mean more, player attendance leaps up.
“You have to expect everybody to be better,” Lansard said.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves in the sense of just being as consistent as possible in our details.”
That consistency for the Aces has come on the offensive end of the ice, as Ste Anne leads the league in total goals scored. Helping that toal was a 12-5 victory against the Morden Bombers Jan. 6.
“We have some talented players on our roster who can score at will,” Lansard said.
The standings appear to be set at the top of the league, as with only five games left on their schedule, Ste Anne has a five point lead on the third place North Stars. While they are only two points behind the league leaders in Portage, the Islanders are a perfect 11-0 and have two games in hand on the Aces.
The Islanders have only given up 19 goals so far this season, and own two victories over the Aces, including a 4-2 victory Jan. 8 in Ste Anne.
“Obviously they’re the team to beat going into the playoffs and we’re excited for the challenge,” Lansard said.
The regular season in the SEMHL is scheduled to finish on Feb. 5.