The St. Albert Miners are confident they can bury the Spruce Grove Slash in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League playoffs after digging themselves out of a hole last weekend in the series opener.
The two-time reigning senior B provincial champions evened the best-of-five semifinal at one win apiece with an 8-4 defensive gem after an undisciplined 15-13 overtime loss at Grant Fuhr Arena.
“Other than our penalty troubles in the first game, if we continue to play the way we did we will win this series,” said offensive attacker Jordan Cornfield. “We played hard, disciplined, fast lacrosse. We’re going into this weekend with the same strategy and we hope to stay out of the box.”
The series resumed Friday in St. Albert but the score was unavailable at press time.
Tonight the Miners host game four at 8 p.m. at Northstar Hyundai Arena.
Game five, if needed goes Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Spruce Grove.
In league play the Miners (9-6-1) beat the second-place Slash (11-5) three times in five games.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost when you have that winning record. You’ve always got that edge on them. We’ve beat them in their rink and we’ve beat them here,” said defensive stalwart Chris Budnick.
Both playoff tilts were intense and bruising affairs.
“It was probably the two hardest lacrosse games we’ve ever had to play. Both teams were very physical. It was just a battle,” Budnick said.
In the playoff lid-lifter, the Slash struck five times on the power play, including a goal with the man advantage in the 10-minute extra period while out-scoring the Miners 3-1.
“We were evenly matched the whole time, we just got into some penalty trouble and that definitely hurt us,” Cornfield said. “They won in overtime because of our mistakes with penalties.”
The Slash posted period leads of 5-4 and 9-8 and late in the game forced overtime with 27 seconds remaining to knot it at 12.
“We played well enough to win. Our goaltender [David Marrese] played great and our offence was firing,” Budnick said. “We just let our heads get the better of us. We had a couple of mental lapses and got into penalty trouble and their power play is lethal with the guys they have.”
Miners captain Nate Schmidt racked up four goals, including the 12-11 go-ahead marker with 1:18 left in the third, and added four assists. Schmidt was the league’s highest scorer with 28 goals and 64 points in 14 games.
Cornfield and Sean Reid potted a pair each and Tyler Douglas, Ted White, Josh Sullivan and Chris Buckley notched singles.
Jarrett Toll, a newcomer from the Edmonton Rush, also tallied once and picked up four assists. In overtime Toll was penalized for high sticking and his frustrations over the call resulted in two misconducts and a game ejection.
Two of the three Slash goals in overtime were scored by St. Albert product Andy Kent.
The top Slash scorer was Jimmy Quinlan of the Rush with four goals and four assists. Jamie Shewchuk of the Colorado Mammoth also chipped in with two goals and two assists.
“On defence we want to make sure we play hard against guys like Quinlan and Shewchuk. We want to let them know they’re not going to have an easy time against us,” said Budnick, 26.
The six-foot-four and 220-pound enforcer was penalized four times last weekend. The former St. Albert rep hockey player ranked second in the league in penalty minutes with 55 in 10 games in his third season with the Miners.
“I like it rough,” said the St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus.
In game two the Miners led 5-4 after two periods on goals by Toll, Cornfield, Reid, Jason Riley and Richard Barnes.
Schmidt, his brother Chris, and White lit the lamp in the third.
The Miners also limited the Slash to one power play goal during a five–minute major to tough guy Owen Chatwin for punching an opponent in period two.
“It was a close, close game. Our defence really shut them down,” Budnick said. “After the first game we knew we had to change our mental game. We got too worried about the referees and too worried about their game. This time we started to worry about our own game. We started to focus on the better things about us and we got the result we needed.”
Shewchuk connected twice in the loss and Quinlan drew two assists for the host team for the Aug. 27 to Sept. 2 Presidents’ Cup national championship.
“They’ve put together a pretty good team. They’ve definitely stepped up from last year. They’ve got a very potent offence and a very strong defence,” Cornfield said. “If we can get under their skin we’ll win again. We have to play their offence hard and physical because they don’t like that type of game.”
The series winner will challenge the first-place Rockyview Knights (13-3) in the best-of-five provincial final.
The Miners are anxious to represent Alberta again at nationals but are not looking past the Slash.
“Nationals is something that is in the back of our minds and we’re trying to push that out so we don’t have to deal with those thoughts,” Cornfield said. “I’m happy with the way the team has come together now. We’re all playing well and we’re going in the same direction, which is a nice feeling. We’re peaking at the right time for the playoffs.”
Cornfield, 29, finished the season tied for third place in goals with 25 in 14 games and was the fourth-leading point producer with 48. It was a remarkable campaign for Cornfield after tearing his hamstring in four places in the fifth and deciding game in the 2011 final against the Knights.
“I started off really well but the hamstring I tore kind of bugged me a little bit halfway through the season. I’ve got that all sorted out now so everything is good,” Cornfield said.
Last year he was acquired in a trade with the Slash to play alongside his brother Graedon, 25, another offensive threat who compiled 27 goals and 56 points in 15 games for second place in the league after winning the 2011 scoring title with 31 goals and 66 points in 18 games.
“We’ve never played together before but we’re starting to click as a unit when we’re on the floor together,” Cornfield said.