Merchants bank playoff wins
Junior B team is one win away from advancing into the semifinals
Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Merchants can book a trip to the Capital Junior B Hockey League semifinals with a victory tonight against the Beverly Warriors.
Game three in the best-of-five playoff starts at 8 p.m. at Londonderry Arena.
The Merchants hold a commanding 2-0 series lead after beating Beverly 5-4 on captain Brady Reid’s overtime marker Friday in Edmonton and 7-3 Sunday in St. Albert on the strength of two goals and two assists by Matt Bowles.
“We’re really going to be pushing it,” Reid said. “We have them on the ropes right now so we’re going to take that momentum from those wins and take it into game three.”
If needed, game four is 8 p.m. Friday at Akinsdale Arena and game five is 8 p.m. Sunday at Londonderry Arena.
“We don’t want to take the foot off the gas. We’ve got some good habits going now and we want to keep the momentum rolling,” said head coach Clint Wandler. “Ultimately it would be nice to finish the series on Wednesday night, however we know we’re playing a great hockey club and they’re not going to give up until the final buzzer goes so they’re going to come out guns a-blazing as well.”
The Merchants are playing like a team to fear in the playoffs.
“We’re on an eight game winning streak so obviously we’re going to be turning heads in the playoffs,” Reid said. “Confidence is a big factor right now for us. We also have a really tight team, one of the tightest teams that I’ve been a part of for a long time, and it just shows that when you have a tight-knit group and you want to battle for the guy beside you, you can go pretty far and that is what is kind of carrying us along right now.”
The Merchants ended the regular season with four wins in a row, then swept the Edmonton Mustangs by scores of 3-2 and 4-1 in the best-of-three qualifying round before knocking off Beverly twice.
“This is what we’ve worked for all year. We have worked hard to get to where we are and we will not quit until we get to that final goal so we will definitely not be a pushover. We will come out and give it everything we have every night, guaranteed,” Wandler said.
Beverly (25-11-2) and the Merchants (22-12-4) finished second and third, respectively, in the west division, but it’s no surprise the Money Men have the Warriors teetering on the brink of elimination, based on results in the regular season. The Merchants defeated Beverly three times by scores of 6-2 in St. Albert and 8-5 and 4-7 at Londonderry Arena, with the last win wrapping up the regular season.
The lone Beverly win was 3-2 in overtime in St. Albert.
“We handled them pretty well during the year so we were coming into the series with pretty big confidence against them,” Reid said. “That OT winner kind of kept things rolling for us, just knowing that we can beat a team like that, so it definitely helped.”
Reid’s third point in game one at Bill Hunter Arena was the winner at 6:15 in sudden-death. Bowles and Blair Johnson assisted on the goal.
“One of our players put it on net and their goalie (Chris Wray) was giving up big rebounds and I just got it on my stick and put it in,” Reid said. “It was a good goal and a big character win for our team.”
The Merchants battled back from a 3-0 deficit with goals by Taylor Wiebe at even strength and Casey Reid on the power play in period two and in the third Bowles potted the equalizer and with 6:51 to play and Kurtis Watts scored the go-ahead tally on the power play.
A goal by Beverly with 21 seconds left in regulation time on the power play sent the contest into overtime.
“We came out a little flat. We were down by three, but the heart and the grit those kids had that night to put it all back together and come back and win like that in such drama, it couldn’t have happened any better and we definitely carried that momentum into game two,” Wandler said.
Sunday the Merchants cashed in five times with the man advantage and led 3-0 after the first and 5-1 entering the third.
It was 4-0 when Beverly got on the scoreboard at 7:30 of the second.
Bowles’ four-point night gave the Merchants’ top playoff scorer seven in four games.
Mike Roeleveld added one goal and two assists and Jamie Umbach, affiliate Sandan Hunter, Alex Hawirko and Brady Reid sniped singles.
“We kept our consistency going, did the little things right, stayed out of the penalty box and maintained our good habits that we’ve developed throughout the year,” Wandler said.
Justin Pawlenchuk, a workhorse all season between the pipes, has been stellar in the playoffs with a sparking 2.44 GAA in four wins.
“Justin has been lights out as he has been all year making the big key saves when we need him to do so,” Wandler said. “Our forwards have also been extremely responsible in the defensive end helping out our defence.”
If the Merchants advance into the next round, they will play the top team remaining in the east division playoffs in the best-of-five semifinals.
“We’re dealing with a couple of injuries right now and guys are pretty banged up so if we get that (series) win then it gives us about a week and a half to recover and it would really set us up well for the next round,” said Reid, a left winger on a potent line combination with Bowles at centre and Roeleveld.
Reid believes the Merchants are serious contenders for the Founders Cup. The team’s last playoff championship was 2005.
“I think we can really go far this year and this is the team to do it,” said the fourth-year Merchant, who joins Hawirko as the lone 21-year-old over-ager on the roster.