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St. Albert Merchants one win away from CJHL final

Team faces Morinville Jets in Game 5 of conference final on Thursday
The Merchants don't want to wave goodbye quite yet. DAVID TYRRELL/Photo

The St. Albert Merchants Junior B hockey team is just one win away from appearing in the league championship series for the second year in a row.

Getting that one win, however, will be no easy feat, as the Merchants are also one loss away from elimination. Their fate will be decided on Thursday evening, as the team's conference final playoff series against the Morinville Jets comes to a head in Game 5.

The Merchants and Jets began their series battle on March 3 with the Jets taking Game 1 by the score of 4-2. 

Jets forward Ethan deChamplain, who led the Capital Junior Hockey League (CJHL) in goals (54) and points (105) in the regular season, led his team offensively with two goals in the third period.

On March 5 the Merchants got back to their winning ways with a 5-2 victory in Game 2. Third-year Merchants forward Anwar Moukhaiber scored two shorthanded goals to help the team tie the best-of-five series at one game apiece.

In Game 3 on March 8, fifth-year Merchants netminder Cole Crozier pulled off a 23-save shutout as the Merchants won 4-0.

Crozier is just the second goalie this year to shut out the Jets' high-flying offence, which features the CJHL's top three point-getters in deChamplain and his linemates Jacob Klassen and Cody Laliberte. The last time the Jets were shut out was in September, when Spruce Grove Regals goalie Easton Cutler turned in a 33-save performance. 

The Merchants had an opportunity to win the conference final series on March 10, but the Jets mounted a third-period comeback to win 4-2 and force Game 5.

Merchants head coach Niall O'Donoghue said in an interview he thinks the team just needs to keep playing their own game, and they'll come out on top on Thursday.

“I don't think anything that happened in the last game is going to affect us,” he said. “I think we just have to stick to the game plan and have the confidence that if we do, we can close the game like that out.”

O'Donoghue also said the team has been making a deliberate effort in trying to shutdown the Jets' top line, which is no easy task.

“deChamplain, Klassen, and Laliberte, they're great players,” he said. “Our boys have to be on their A-game when any one of those three is on the ice.”

“Morinville is a very good hockey team, and we knew that this was not going to be an easy series.”

When it comes to the Merchants' offensive output so far in the playoffs, the team's new all-time leading goal scorer Nico Gallo has been showing off his passing skills, registering seven assists through seven playoff games, while also potting three goals. Assistant captain David Saunders leads the time in playoff points with 11, while Merchants defenceman Brandon Gallo and Matthew Gomez have also stepped up offensively with seven and six playoff points respectively in six games.

The winner of Thursday's series finale, which starts at 8 p.m. at Jarome Iginla Arena in St. Albert, will play the Beaumont Chiefs in the CJHL's best-of-seven championship series. 

The Chiefs earned their spot in the championship by defeating the Sherwood Park Knights in four games, ending the Knights' hopes of winning their third-straight league title.

Last season the Knights beat the Merchants in the championship round in just five games, bringing the hometown club's best season since 2013-14 to a halt.

The last time the Merchants hoisted the league's championship trophy was in 2005.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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