Playoff action heating up across the region
Another week brings yet another team from the region into the post-season, although fans of the St Malo Warriors will have to wait to see who they will play when they finally take to the ice during the playoffs.
The Capital Region Junior Hockey League (CRJHL) playoffs kicked off Feb. 21, as Arborg (3) takes on North Winnipeg (6) and Beausejour (5) faces Lundar (4) in the first round.
The winners of those two series will go on to face either the St Malo Warriors or Selkirk Fishermen, who earned first-round byes by finishing in the top two positions in the league.
The two top teams combined to only lose an incredible 10 games in regulation this season. St Malo’s six regulation losses are especially impressive given the team was sitting with a 6-4-1 record early in December.
St Malo will play the highest remaining seed in the league semi-finals, with the first round scheduled to end March 1 at the latest.
While the end of series results in the first round of the Hanover-Tache Junior Hockey League playoffs appear pretty normal, the path to those results was anything but.
The second-ranked Red River Mudbugs, which put together a great regular season, were brought to the limit by the Macdonald Swarm. The Swarm may have only finished with three wins this regular season, but that didn’t stop them from putting a scare into Red River, winning games one and three on the road to put the Mudbugs on the brink of elimination.
Macdonald, which play their home games at the Sanford Arena, appeared set to complete the upset, scoring two goals in quick succession in the first period of game four to take a 3-1 lead, but Red River star forward Braden Hildebrand wasn’t about to let his team lose to the bottom-seeded Swarm.
He rattled off two goals and an assist to complete a four-point first period, finishing a 9-6 victory with seven points to force a game five. In that game five, the HTJHL’s leading regular season scorer had a more pedestrian effort, only picking up three points in a 5-1 victory. Hildebrand scored 15 points in the series.
The other two series were less dramatic, with third-seeded Springfield Xtreme sweeping the expansion Landmark Blues and the Niverville Clippers defeating the higher-seeded Lorette Comets 3-1. Niverville managed to win both their home games, and split a pair of games in Ile des Chenes, including a key 4-0 victory Feb. 12.
Both semi-final series have already began, with the Steinbach Huskies hosting the Clippers and Red River hosting Springfield Feb. 22. Both games finished after press time. A full schedule of available games can be found on The Carillon Sports Scoreboard on page B4.
Ile des Chenes’ return to senior hockey playoffs had to be put on hold for a couple days after their scheduled game two against the Morden Bombers in the South East Manitoba Hockey League was postponed due to weather Feb. 16.
Already down 1-0 in the series, Ile des Chenes lost a heartbreaker 6-5 in overtime to go down 2-0 in the five game series, with both games taking place in Morden. Ile des Chenes looked poised to steal game two as Justin Metcalf gave the visitors a 3-2 lead early in the third period of game two, before the Bombers stormed back to take a 5-3 lead. It was Metcalf who forced overtime with his second of the game, but Andrew Clark scored five minutes into overtime to put the North Stars on the brink.
Ile des Chenes would fall out of the playoffs Feb. 18, losing a tight game 4-3 in their home playoff debut in the SEMHL.
The region’s other two SEMHL teams faced off in the first round, with the Ste Anne Aces conquering their former Carillon Senior Hockey League competition three games to one.
Each team defended home ice through three games of the series, before the Aces exploded for eight goals in a game four victory in St Jean. When Ken Selby scored his third of the game with under five minutes to go in the third period, Ste Anne was leading 8-1.
The Aces will face a juggernaut in the semi-finals, as they take on the top-seeded Portage Islanders. Portage only lost two games this season and were a perfect 9-0 at home. That incredible record includes two victories over Ste Anne. That series also is set to begin Feb. 22, with Ste Anne hosting game 2 Feb. 26.
The other semi-final sees second-ranked Warren take on third-ranked Morden, as all four playoff series in the first round of the SEMHL playoffs were won by the higher seed, with all series aside from Red River and Ste Anne finishing in the minimum three games.
The Steinbach Regional Secondary School Sabres playoff run ended at the hands of the Selkirk Royals Feb. 17.
The Sabres had taken a 1-0 series lead after winning game one of their three game series 4-1, but Selkirk was able to strike back with a win of their own at home by the same score.
The decisive game three came down to the final moments of regulation, with Selkirk managing to score on a deflected goal while with a man advantage.
While Steinbach’s season in the highest division of high school hockey in Manitoba may have ended, Lorette (tier 3) and Springfield (tier 2) continue to battle.