Merchants deposit playoff deficit
Money Men trail best-of-five Founders Cup final after game three loss to Fort Saskatchewan Hawks
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 29, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Merchants might have to wait until next season to win their first Founders Cup since 2005.
Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks in St. Albert left the Money Men teetering on the brink of elimination in the best-of-five final in the Capital Junior B Hockey League.
Game four was played Friday in the Fort but the score was unavailable at press time.
If needed, the fifth and deciding game is 8 p.m. Sunday at Akinsdale Arena.
“We’ve got to stay strong and pull out a win on Friday and then bring it home on Sunday,” said centre Casey Reid of the 2-1 series deficit.
Regardless of the outcome, both teams will represent the CJHL at provincials, starting Thursday in Grande Prairie, after winning their respective best-of-seven semifinals.
The Alberta champion advances to the April 17 to 20 Western Canadian Keystone Cup, hosted by the Abbotsford Pilots.
“Obviously the goal is to go to provincials and westerns but right now we’ve got to be focused on winning playoffs. We want to win this series before we go to provincials. We don’t want to go into provincials being the bottom (CJHL) seed. We want to be the top seed,” Reid said. “There is still a lot of stuff that we’ve got to work on if we want to be successful in provincials but it all starts with this series right now.”
For only the second time this season, and twice in the playoffs, the Merchants lost consecutive games.
After handily winning the opening game 7-2 in St. Albert the Merchants dropped Sunday’s tilt in the Fort 4-3 in double overtime before the rare loss on home ice.
Reid, 20, said the Merchants haven’t punished the Hawks with the body.
“We’re a lot bigger than them and we’ve got to intimidate them. We haven’t been really hitting them physically lately and if we start finishing our checks they’re going to start to turn around and cough up pucks and that’s what we need to get goals.”
In game three the Hawks struck twice in the middle frame to lead 3-1.
The Merchants rallied in the third on Sandan Hunter’s first playoff goal and the Hawks responded less than two minutes later with Lane Morin’s second power-play marker of the night with 11:52 remaining.
Mitch McNamara tied it at one with the man advantage in the first.
Justin Pawlenchuk (8-4, 1.69 GAA) started his 12th consecutive playoff game as the Merchants outshot the Hawks 34-27.
“We probably could’ve buried a couple of chances but their goalie (Tyler Berger) stood pretty strong. Other than that we outplayed them for most of the game, the bounces weren’t going our way and they were going their way,” Reid said. “There was a lot of frustration and I think that’s part of the reason why we didn’t pull through and win.”
In game two Joey Morin’s winner early in the second OT period evened the series.
Thomas Rotundo’s second goal in two games for the Merchants opened the scoring on the power play in the first and Reid capitalized with the man advantage to make it 2-2 in the second.
Shots were 40-36 for the Merchants, including a 10-7 margin during 12 minutes in OT.
“We out-played them probably even more than we did the last game, they just capitalized on their chances and that was the difference between us and them,” said Reid, who picked up three assists in game one.
Josh Jewell potted a pair and added two helpers as the Merchants outshot the visitors by a 53-34 margin in the series lid-lifter.
Jed Groenenboom chipped in with one goal and two assists and Rotundo, Stefan Meunier, Jared Kwasney and Brent McGugan also scored in support of Pawlenchuk.
ICE CHIPS: The Hawks (27-10-1 regular season and 9-6 playoffs) joined the Beaumont Chiefs as the only CJHL teams to beat the Merchants (34-3-1 regular season and 8-4 playoffs) three times in league and playoffs combined.
Jewell is the Merchants’ top playoff scorer with eight goals and 17 points. Blair Macuch and Reid have 14 points apiece and Meunier and McGugan each have six goals.