Merchants prepare for playoffs
Junior B team is 30-3-1 with four games left in league play
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 06:00 am
Losing isn’t the way the St. Albert Merchants do business in the Capital Junior B Hockey League.
The 30-3-1 Merchants are banking on their regular season success will produce the team’s first Founders Cup championship since 2005.
It’s the most prolific record in team history since the 1997 Money Men finished an amazing 36-0.
“We’ve got to keep winning,” declared left-winger Brent McGugan, who scored four goals in Friday’s 7-4 win over the Morinville Jets at Akinsdale Arena. “We’ve had a successful season and we have to carry that into the playoffs.”
The Merchants strung together two victories after their season-high 17-game winning streak ended with a 3-2 defeat in Beaumont on Jan. 17.
“We’re trying to get a winning streak going before the playoffs and then keep going and going,” McGugan said. “That loss made us look at the bigger picture. We were just in the mode of we’re going to win every game kind of thing. Now we’re back to work at practice and we’re working hard.”
The Merchants have four games remaining in league play and are guaranteed a bye in the best-of-three opening playoff series.
“We’re approaching those games hard. We’re going to basically give it our all and go into the playoffs with a great mindset,” McGugan said. “Hopefully we hit our peak in the playoffs and keep winning.”
A potential playoff preview is Friday’s clash with the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks at 8 p.m. in St. Albert. The Hawks – the top team in the east at 23-9-1 – knocked off the west division-leading Merchants 6-2 on Nov. 8 in the Fort.
After the loss the Merchants rattled off 17 consecutive wins by a margin of 110 to 37, including four shutouts.
“We’re not going to win every game. That happens rare, even though I know one of our Merchants’ teams did that,” McGugan said. “The thing about this team is about 95 per cent of us know each other really well so we had chemistry going into the season. We all enjoy going to the rink every day, working for each other and as a collective group to keep winning because everyone knows winning is a great feeling.”
The Merchants are averaging a CJHL-best six goals per game and 2.38 against after defeating the Jets (16-16-2) for the third time after dropping the league opener to Morinville 6-5 in overtime in St. Albert.
“It was a good team effort against our rivals that we don’t exactly like,” McGugan said. “At one point it almost turned into a fight-filled game but we toned it down after a big scrum (in the second).
“It definitely almost turned into a classic.”
Ryan Harrison scored the only goal in the first period, with linemates’ Casey Reid and McGugan drawing assists.
McGugan, Jed Groenenboom and Jordan MacPhee padded the lead in the second before Keegan Arcand of the Jets struck on the power play with 1:42 left in the period.
“We got up really early on them. We were playing our game and then we slowly let them back in but by the end we shut them down,” said McGugan.
He potted his second and third goals in the contest three minutes into the third on the power play, with Dan Rombough assisting on both while quarterbacking the power play.
The Jets replied with three straight as Branden Domoslai, Arcand and Craig Hills (power play) lit the lamp before McGugan sealed the deal with his team-high 25th goal.
“The last one was kind of significant. They had scored their fourth goal and one of their guys came by our bench shaking his jersey for some odd reason. A few shifts later our line had an awesome shift. We were all working hard and we scored so I had to go back and return the favour so I shook the jersey right in front of them,” said McGugan, 19.
It was a memorable night for the St. Albert product who played his last midget AAA campaign with the Canadian Athletic Club before hooking up with the junior B Edmonton Mustangs last season.
“To score four goals felt different. It never really happens to me,” McGugan said. “It was a good feeling and to do it against the Jets was more significant you could say, just because of the rivalry we have with them.”
McGugan’s five-point outburst gave him 45 in 31 games after recording 13 goals and 31 points in 36 games with the Mustangs.
“I’ve tried to establish myself and earn a spot in the lineup and hopefully I’ve done that,” said the security camera installer. “I’ve been working hard, harder than I've ever worked before I guess. I’m just trying to enjoy the season, which has happened. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a successful season with any team.”
ICE CHIPS: Reid’s three assists against the Jets lifted him into a tie with Josh Jewell for the team lead in points with 48 apiece.
Jets’ netminder Mike Brown (12-13, 4.50 GAA) faced a game-high 43 shots and Merchants’ all-star Justin Pawlenchuk (21-1, 2.50 GAA) stopped 18 shots.
A total of 33 infractions for 146 penalty minutes were handed out. The Merchants led the way with 18 penalties for 81 minutes against the second-most penalized team in the CJHL.
Sunday the Merchants visit the Edmonton Royals (14-18-2) at 8 p.m. at Confederation Arena.