Merchants bank playoff sweep
Junior B team advances to the semifinal playoffs after outscoring Beverly Warriors 18-3 and two of the three wins were by shutouts
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 01, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Merchants are four wins away from a date with destiny after sweeping their quarter-final series in the Capital Junior B Hockey League playoffs.
The Money Men can advance to provincials and the Founders Cup final with a victory in the best-of-seven semifinal series.
Both teams in the Founders Cup will represent the CJHL at provincials, April 3 to 6 in Grande Prairie.
The Alberta champion will go on to compete for the Western Canadian Keystone Cup, hosted by the Abbotsford Pilots, April 17 to 20.
“It’s always exciting to be this close to going right to provincials. It’s the same position we were in last year,” said Stefan Meunier, a rugged left winger and one of 14 Merchants who suffered heartbreak in the game seven loss to the Wetaskiwin Icemen in the 2013 semifinals. “You always want to have a shot at the league too and hopefully this year we can finish it off.”
The last Founders Cup for the Merchants was 2005.
The team’s provincial medal count includes gold in 1986 and 1996 and silver in 1988 and 1998.
The only medal at westerns was silver in 1996.
“I think there is a little bit more pride with the league title but provincials is another bragging right at the same time,” Meunier said.
Potential opponents for the first-place Merchants (34-3-1) in the semifinal crossover format between the west and east divisions include the Sherwood Park Knights (19-15-4), Beaumont Chiefs (18-16-4) and Edmonton Royals (17-19-2). Of the three teams only the Chiefs managed to beat the Merchants in league play, 3-2 in Beaumont on Jan. 17 to halt a 17-game winning streak. It’s also the last loss the Merchants have suffered this season.
“Because we haven’t played those teams (in the east division) much in the regular season it’s kind of hard to gauge how we would do in a series but either way we’re pretty excited to go out and play our game and not so much worry about who we’re playing,” Meunier said.
The Merchants wasted no time eliminating Beverly (19-19) in the best-of-five west division playoffs. The series clincher was 7-0 Wednesday at Akinsdale Arena after beating Beverly 7-3 in St. Albert and 4-0 at Londonderry Arena last weekend.
“It was exciting to be able to finish the series off so strong like that. Everybody was really focused on the end goal. We wanted to close the series out as soon as possible,” Meunier said. “We really had all of our lines going. We got goals from every line I’m pretty sure.”
After a scoreless opening period the Merchants lit up Beverly netminder Keaton Bakstad with four goals on 23 shots in the second stanza by Brent McGugan, Jed Groenenboom, Taylor Wiebe and Casey Reid.
Reid’s power-play marker with 33 seconds left in the period was the first of four goals on the man advantage as McGugan, A.J. Yariwon and Meunier capitalized against Beverly’s ineffective penalty kill unit.
Beverly was penalized eight times for 16 minutes and the Merchants had six infractions for 12 minutes while going four-for-five on the power play.
“When things started to get a little chippy everyone kept their cool and didn’t worry what they were doing. We had a lot of power play chances from that and it was good to finish the game off like that,” Meunier said.
Reid, Ryan Harrison and captain Kurtis Watts pitched in with two assists apiece.
Shots overall were 49-22 as all-star Justin Pawlenchuk posted his second-straight shutout of the playoffs and fourth of the season. Pawlenchuk also stopped 22 shots in the game two shutout and the last goal he let in was with four seconds left in period two in the series opener. He finished the series with a brilliant 1.00 GAA and .966 save percentage.
Blair Macuch and Watts were the top scorers in the series with six points apiece. Watts was arguably the team’s best player while racking up six assists from the blueline after missing the last 17 games of the regular season with a broken right collarbone.
Meunier and Wiebe finished the series with three goals apiece to lead the team. The pair of tough hombres were Macuch’s linemates to form a terrorizing trio offensively.
Meunier, 21, is determined to finish his final season of junior with a big bang. The former Alberta Junior Hockey League player with the Drayton Valley Thunder and the controversial St. Albert Steel is coming off a productive league campaign of eight goals, 24 points and a team-high 131 penalty minutes in 33 games after compiling 16 goals, 24 points and 101 PIM in 18 games in his first Merchants’ season.
Meunier also picked up two assists in the playoffs for five points in total.
“When it’s your last year you want to do well and fortunately my line has been playing really well and we’ve been working well together so I’ve been able to get some good opportunities to score and you can’t ask for anything more in your last playoff,” said the MacEwan University business student.
ICE CHIPS: The Merchants are tentatively scheduled to host game one in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Fans packed the stands at the Merchants’ two home playoff games and several sponsors donated prizes for various contests and giveaways.
Visit www.stalbertmerchants.com for home game events in the semifinal series.