Money Men rich in wins
Junior B juggernauts are 32-3-1 with two games left until the playoffs
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014 06:00 am
Strength in numbers add up to a winning season for the St. Albert Merchants.
The No. 1 team in the Capital Junior B Hockey League is 32-3-1 while averaging 5.92 goals scored and 2.31 against with two games remaining before the Founders Cup playoffs.
“It’s been a good year but right now we’re just trying to prepare ourselves for playoffs, stay disciplined and stay healthy,” said centre Casey Reid. “It doesn’t really matter where you end up in the league. Last year Spruce Grove was in first place and they were really good but they ended up getting knocked out (in the quarter-finals).
“We’ve just got to make sure we don’t get too cocky and come out strong in playoffs and hopefully go far.”
Only three Merchants are among the top 35 CJHL point producers – Reid (54), Josh Jewell (51) and Brent McGugan (49) – but seven have 30 or more points.
Ten players are also in double digits in goals with McGugan (26), Jewell (23) and Mitch McNamara (20) leading the way.
“We’ve got four strong lines and our coaches always say they believe in every one of the lines and that’s what some of the other teams lack. They will have a strong two lines but their other two are pretty weak,” said Reid, the team leader in assists with 36 in 34 games.
“When you look at our team everyone is scoring and putting up pretty good points. Guys who should be grinding it out and fighting and making sure they’re protecting our players are doing their part too.”
The netminding tandem of Max Cathcart (9-3, 2.15 GAA) and Justin Pawlenchuk (23-1, 2.38 GAA) are ranked first and second, respectively, in the CJHL and have combined for a league-high five shutouts.
Last weekend Pawlenchuk backstopped the Merchants to victories of 2-1 against the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks (24-10-1), the top team in the east, and 7-1 against the Edmonton Royals (15-9-2).
The team’s MVP and CJHL first team all-star in 2013 stopped 43 out of 45 shots in both victories combined as the Merchants have now won 21 of their last 22 games, including three decisions against the rival Morinville Jets (17-16-2).
A playoff atmosphere surrounded Friday’s tight affair with the Hawks at Akinsdale Arena.
“They’re a pretty good team. They’re pretty small and they’re fast but our D stayed strong in the game,” said Reid of the No. 2-ranked CJHL team.
The Hawks are one of only three teams to beat the Merchants in regulation time, 6-2 Nov. 8.
“They were pretty loud about it after the game in Fort Saskatchewan. We had something to prove to them so it was nice to win,” said Reid.
He assisted on power-play goals by Ryan Harrison in the first and McGugan in the second.
The Hawks slashed the deficit in half 30 seconds into the third with the man advantage.
“We started off a little slow but we stayed strong in the third period and held the lead,” Reid said.
Sunday at Confederation Arena the Merchants tallied seven straight times after the Royals scored the only goal in the first.
Reid potted his 17th and 18th markers and added two assists in the team’s fourth straight win.
Jewell and Thomas Rotundo sniped two goals apiece and McGugan picked up three assists. A.J. Yariwon also scored and Blair Macuch had two helpers.
“We started off really slow in the first and even in the second, but right around the end of the second and in the third we started to pick it up a bit and we were rolling pretty good in the third,” said Reid.
He credited his offensive outburst to linemates’ Jewell and McGugan. Back in peewee the trio played on the same line together for St. Albert’s provincial championship team.
“I’ve got good chemistry with McGugan and Jewell. I guess we just know where each other is going to be and get pucks to the net,” said the team’s co-rookie of the year with Dan Rombough in 2013.
The Merchants close out the regular season this weekend against the Edmonton Mustangs (18-14-3) Friday at 8 p.m. in St. Albert and Sunday against the host Wetaskiwin Icemen (14-15-6) at 2 p.m.
The Icemen are a tough nut for the Merchants to crack. Last year the Merchants fell one win short from advancing to the league final and provincials after losing 3-2 to the Icemen in the seventh and deciding game in the semifinals. It was the Icemen’s third win at Akinsdale Arena in the series.
The Icemen also edged the Merchants 3-2 Oct. 27 in St. Albert.
“We’re not going to give them anything,” said Reid, 20, who has two years of junior B eligibility remaining. “We want to go into the playoffs strong so we’re going to have to be ready for that game.”