Aces punch ticket to SEMHL finals
If one moment sums up the Ste Anne Aces in the South East Manitoba Hockey League playoffs, it came in the final five minutes of game two of their semi-final series against the Portage Islanders Feb. 25.
Leading 4-3 against the top-ranked Islanders, a broken door on the visitor’s bench forced a half-hour delay as referees and arena personnel worked to fix the issue. When the door was finally repaired, the Islanders, who had only lost two regular season games this season, promptly tied the game.
Undeterred, the Aces simply went about their business, with Owen Blocker scoring on a cross-crease pass to regain the lead. Ste Anne, which finished fourth in the regular season, added two overtime victories in Portage to their home win in game two, sweeping the top-seeded Islanders out of the playoffs.
“We could have been on our heels, or really felt bad for ourselves, but we just re-focused,” Aces coach Kevin Lansard said on the game two victory.
“We’re going for the win.”
Ste Anne is bringing a team deep with experience, including several Carillon Senior Hockey League championships before COVID-19 shut their league down.
Lansard described similar overtime goals in Portage during game one and game three. In game one, Brenden Walker managed to pounce on a point shot which was initially stopped by Portage goalie Steve Christie. While Christie managed to halt the initial shot, the rebound was laying behind the goalkeeper, leaving the league’s leading playoff goal-scorer free to lock up the game for the Aces.
In game three it was Caleb Paisley who would get to play the hero. As Ste Anne was killing a five-minute major penalty, Keith Grondin picked up an errant Islander shot which had missed the net. While he couldn’t convert on his ensuing breakaway, Paisley was following up and scored on the rebound to complete the sweep.
“We were kind of going for it, knowing we had to kill a five (minute penalty),” Lansard said.
“We told the guys, ‘if there’s an opportunity, take it.’”
The Aces will now wait the winner of a series between the Morden Bombers and defending champion Warren Mercs. Lansard said the team was “in no rush,” to kick off the finals joking he hoped the two other semi-final teams beat each other up as much as possible before the championship series, which will be seven games.
“The compete level our team is putting in right now is insane,” Lansard said.
“The work ethic shift-to-shift is pretty good so they need the rest.”
Lansard didn’t rule out a trip to Morden or Warren to check out the other series, but noted they’ll be busy on the ice trying to iron out some details. One of those details is trying to figure out how to start games better. In the first two games against Portage, the Aces were down at least two goals in the first period.
The Warren/Morden series was tied at 1-1 as of press time, with the series scheduled to end as soon as March 3, depending on results.