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Merchants deposit winning record

Dominating season by St. Albert's junior B team

By: Jeff Hansen

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 04, 2013 06:00 am

LAST LINE OF DEFENCE - Justin Pawlenchuk stops the puck for the first-place St. Albert Merchants (18-2-1) in the Capital Junior B Hockey League. The Merchants' most valuable player and CJHL first team all-star in 2012/13 is 13-1 with one shutout, 2.50 GAA and .914 save percentage this season.
LAST LINE OF DEFENCE - Justin Pawlenchuk stops the puck for the first-place St. Albert Merchants (18-2-1) in the Capital Junior B Hockey League. The Merchants' most valuable player and CJHL first team all-star in 2012/13 is 13-1 with one shutout, 2.50 GAA and .914 save percentage this season.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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The St. Albert Merchants mean business as the team to beat in the Capital Junior B Hockey League.

The runaway leaders at 18-2-1 are averaging a CJHL-high 5.8 goals per game and a microscopic 2.4 against in the 14-team circuit.

It’s the Money Men’s most prolific start since their historic 36-0 campaign as the 1997 Founders Cup champions.

“We’ve been playing a complete team game. Everybody has been going hard pretty much from the start of the game to the end,” said all-star netminder Justin Pawlenchuk. “We have a bunch of guys that get into the corners and get it done, which has really led to our success. We’ve been able to grind out a couple of games. Even if it’s close we seem to find a way to pull it out.”

The Merchants haven’t missed a beat since their electrifying playoff run that ended one game short of going not only to the Founders Cup final but provincials as one of two CJHL reps.

“Last year was kind of a shock. Nobody expected us to make it as far as we did,” Pawlenchuk of the team’s meteoric rise to game seven in the semifinals after going 22-12-4 for third place in the west.

“Once that happened and everybody caught wind of it we were able to get a couple of good players come out. All the guys now believe that we can actually do it. Confidence is a big part of our success this year.”

Team bonding has strengthened the Merchants’ will to win.

“Last year we were a really close-knit group. There was no separate groups in our dressing room and that also had a big part in our success because when it came down to it we all wanted to fight and battle for each other and it’s carried over to this year. We’ve become a close group again. It really helps, especially in those games where you get down early. Everybody is able to bring everybody back up and we get back into it,” Pawlenchuk said.

The team’s seventh-straight win was Sunday’s 4-3 decision against the Edmonton Mustangs (9-11-1) at Bill Hunter Arena.

Mitch McNamara’s goal with 1:35 left in regulation time was the winner after the Mustangs tied it with 2:26 to go.

The Mustangs tallied twice in the first and A.J. Yariwon scored early in the second.

Brent McGugan and Dan Rombough potted goals in the third to give the Merchants their first lead of the night.

Liam McNamara picked up three assists and Jared Kwasney had two helpers.

The Mustangs finished 1-for-11 on the power play.

“We didn’t get out of the gate the way we wanted but we were able to pull it all together,” said Pawlenchuk, who stopped a game-high 23 shots. “We spent most of the game on the penalty kill so it was nice to see us come out with the win.”

Friday in Morinville goals by Liam McNamara (shorthanded) and Kwasney’s unassisted effort in the third snapped a 3-3 tie in the 5-4 win over the rival Jets (7-11-2).

Taylor Wiebe and Kwasney lit the lamp in the first, Josh Jewell recorded his team-leading 15th goal and 30th point in the second and McGugan added two assists.

Pawlenchuk faced 35 shots and Mike Brown was tested 48 times by the Merchants, as they improved to 2-0-1 against the Jets this season.

Both teams were assessed 44 minutes in penalties.

“We always like to get up for Morinville because we don’t like them very much, Pawlenchuk said of the CJHL’s most penalized team.

“It’s always a rough one but they’re fun games to play in. Everybody is hitting a little more and putting a little more into it. We always seem to pull it out against Morinville too.”

After last weekend’s performance Pawlenchuk (13-1, 2.50 GAA) ranks second behind teammate Max Cathcart (5-2, 2.26 GAA) among the CJHL’s top goalies.

“We’re just trying to bring our A game every game and give our team a chance to win,” Pawlenchuk said. “Max is a good goalie. He’s played some good hockey. He’s still young. It’s only his second year on the team. He’s come a lot farther this year than last year and he’s got better and better with each game. He has more shutouts (two) than me (one) so he’s been doing well for himself and it’s good to see.”

Last season Pawlenchuk was honoured as the Merchants’ most valuable player and was voted to the CJHL’s first all-star team. The 21-year-old NAIT instrumentation student was a workhorse in league play (16-10, 3.50 GAA and one shutout in 1,611 minutes) and playoffs (8-6, 3.06 GAA in 844 minutes).

“It’s always nice to get rewarded for the way you play but it’s kind of a secondary prize to how well we did in the playoffs. Overall you just want that championship as a team award,” said the Strathcona product who played midget AA before joining the Merchants.

Friday the Merchants visit the Spruce Grove Regals (7-14) at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday host the North Edmonton Red Wings (12-6-1) at 8 p.m. at Akinsdale Arena.


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