Merchants in business to win
Junior B team won 12 in a row and was 23-2-1 at the Christmas break
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 04, 2014 06:00 am
The future is bright for the St. Albert Merchants with the playoffs less than six weeks away.
The team to beat for the Founders Cup championship skated into the new year with 12 straight wins as the runaway leaders in the Capital Junior B Hockey League at 23-2-1.
“The vibes are good right now. Everyone is happy. Everything seems to click. Everything seems to be going right and nothing seems to be going wrong for us,” said assistant captain Taylor Wiebe. “But with the record we have everyone is now going to be after us even harder and harder.”
The Money Men have 11 games remaining, but only four at Akinsdale Arena, after hosting the North Edmonton Red Wings on Friday. The score was unavailable at press time.
The Merchants – 12-1-1 at home this season – had eight more wins and 15 extra points over the second-place Red Wings in the west standings.
The closest team to the Merchants points-wise was the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks, the east leaders at 19-6.
“We have to try and stay loose and definitely keep doing what we’re doing,” Wiebe said. “The biggest thing for our team is keeping the room from not getting too cocky and thinking, ‘Oh, we’re this good.’ We have to keep going and keep working because it can change pretty quick.
“I would like to say we’re really confident but we can’t be too confident. You have to go to work every practice and come to play every game and not just think that because our record is so good we win the game.”
After losing 6-2 to the Hawks in the Fort on Nov. 8, the Merchants outscored teams 85-26 while posting three shutouts during their 12-game winning streak.
“This last little run we’ve been on has been our best of the year for sure so far,” Wiebe said. “Everything has been on fire lately: defensive zone, offensive zone, goaltending; just our all-around play. Our power play has been good. Our penalty kill has been good. We’re keeping teams to like three goals a game and less. Everything is just going the right way.”
Wiebe believes the Merchants have what it takes to go the distance in the playoffs after falling one win short of advancing to the Founders Cup final and provincials last year. The 3-2 loss to the Wetaskiwin Icemen in St. Albert in the seventh and deciding game in the semifinal series ended the deepest playoff run by the Merchants in several years. They finished 8-6 overall in the post-season after placing third in the west at 22-12-4.
“It’s definitely driving us to have that feeling again and we have the team that can do it,” Wiebe said. “We’ve got a couple of extra better guys this year that will help us go further in the playoffs.”
The Merchants are still far from perfect despite averaging a league-high 6.35 goals and a microscopic 2.38 against.
“There is stuff to work on to get better at it, like the power play (34 PP goals) and PK (22 PP goals against and 11 shorthanded goals scored). You can always improve on the defensive zone too. Sometimes we slack off in the defensive zone but it’s been OK because our offence has been scoring so many goals lately,” said Wiebe.
His hat-trick performance in the last game of 2013, 7-1 over the Beverly Warriors (14-11) in St. Albert, was the highlight of the night as the Merchants continued their winning ways despite a depleted lineup.
“We had a couple of guys who left early for Christmas holidays and we had a couple of affiliates join us,” Wiebe said. “I don’t think any of us veterans who were there wanted to go into Christmas with that winning streak ending so we just came to the rink and got fired up for the game and played pretty well.”
Wiebe, 20, lined up at right wing alongside the team’s top two scorers – Josh Jewell (18 goals and 41 points in 22 games) and Casey Reid (25 assists and 38 points in 26 games). The rambunctious second-year Merchant normally rides shotgun on a line with the McNamara twins but they got an early jump on the Christmas break and didn’t play.
The offensive outburst raised Wiebe’s totals to 13 goals and 17 points, along with 60 penalty minutes in 19 games. Last season he scored once and had five assists in 17 games to go with 55 PIM and in the playoffs tallied twice, added two helpers and served a team-high 52 PIM in 13 games.
Wiebe’s character and work ethic was rewarded with a letter this season by the coaching staff.
“It comes with a little bit of responsibility. I’m the kind of guy who likes to joke around sometimes a little bit too much,” Wiebe said. “The coach definitely expects a little bit more out of you night in and night out and I like it. It’s good stuff. It’s never a bad thing to lead a little bit.”
Sunday the Merchants play the Strathcona Bruins (11-14-1) at 3:30 p.m. in Fultonvale.
The next home game is Jan. 12 versus the Leduc Riggers (9-14-3) at 8 p.m.