The 2018 AJHL North Final may go down as one of the closest four game sweeps you will ever see on the ice. The Spruce Grove Saints and the Whitecourt Wolverines hadn’t met each other since December 16th, 2017 but all six games in the season series were tightly contested with goals few and far between. This continued in the playoffs.
In Game 1, it was tight and physical from the get go. After Whitecourt killed off an early hooking call against Chase Haygarth, Tyr Thompson would score his first goal since late January to put the Wolverines up 1-0 heading into the second period. The Wolverines would add to their lead with Spencer Bast shoveling one past Nolan Kent five minutes into the second to make it 2-0 Whitecourt. The deficit was the first facing the Saints in the post season and the first time they were down at home in over a month, but they would respond in kind. Parker Saretsky would pull the Saints within one after coming out of the corner to beat Xavier Potvin less than a minute after the second Wolverines goal. With less than five minutes to go in the period Saretsky would score again, this time on the power play, to make it a 2-2 tie heading into the third period. The final twenty minutes of regulation would solve nothing, so Game 1 of the North Final would go to overtime. Both teams had chances to end it, with Whitecourt coming very close on a Ben Evanish breakaway which was thwarted by a pop of the right shoulder from Nolan Kent. Then, just over the halfway mark, the Wolverines’ Liam Motley burst down his right wing, but would be taken down and stripped of the puck by Saints defenceman Sean Comrie. Comrie then zipped the puck up to AJHL MVP Chris Van Os-Shaw, who broke in alone on Potvin. Pulling the puck across the goal mouth from left to right to his backhand, Van Os-Shaw hit the brakes and brought the puck back to his forehand. With Potvin sliding the wrong way, Van Os-Shaw slid the puck past Potvin for the winner to complete the comeback for the Saints.
With a 1-0 series lead, Game 2 would see the Saints on another early power play but this time they would make Whitecourt pay when Josh Harris buried a rebound from the slot to give Spruce Grove an early 1-0 lead after one period. The Saints would make it 2-0 early in the second period, when Logan Ganie wired one bar down on Potvin, but the Wolverines weren’t about to lie down. Streaking down the left side, Stevie Bryant would catch Nolan Kent from the half wall to cut the lead in half. However, a costly charging penalty from Yannik Bertrand put the Wolverines back on the penalty kill and the Saints power play struck for the second time in the game, as Van Os-Shaw tapped home a back door pass from Saretsky to make it 3-1. About a minute and a half later, Van Os-Shaw would score again to give the Saints a three goal lead but Whitecourt would answer on a 5-on-3 power play, with Tanner Foster pulling the Wolverines within two. The Wolverines came out blazing in the third period but Spruce Grove was able to hang on. With just over eight seconds left on the clock Whitecourt captain Ryan Grant snuck a puck through a crowd to make it 4-3, but time would run out on the Wolverines as the Saints would take a 2-0 series lead on the road.
After two great games in Spruce Grove, the packed Scott Safety Centre in Whitecourt was rocking in Game 3 of the North Final. The physicality of the game, and maybe the series, was at its peak in the first period. After a scoreless first period, the second period would see Potvin stone Chase Olsen on the doorstep with a white hot glove save while Kent would showcase his lateral movement to rob Motley at the other end. Olsen, who also put a puck just over an empty net and out of play in the second, would finally be rewarded for his hard work by deflecting a shot from the point to beat Potvin for the first goal of the game with less than five minutes to go in the second period. Down 1-0 in the third period, the Wolverines would come in waves, with the Saints narrowly avoiding the tying goal several times. Whitecourt would appear to tie the game with only minutes on the clock after a bouncy puck would pinball its way through Kent after being shot from the neutral zone, but it would be called back as the Wolverines were caught offside. Pressuring late in the game, the Wolverines would be forced to the penalty kill after Yannik Bertrand was called for cross checking with just 1:25 to go. The Saints would take the game 1-0 and push the Wolverines to the brink with a 3-0 series lead.
With their season on the line in Game 4, the Wolverines would once again smother the Saints in the first period which would end in a scoreless draw. Undeterred, the Saints would dig deep and find the resolve to end the series with the start of the second. After several strong shifts working the cycle, Saints captain Josh Harris would finally solve Potvin with a backhander which slid 5-hole for a 1-0 lead over the halfway mark of the period and game. However, with Dylan Bourlai in the box for tripping, the Wolverines would score on the power play with Spencer Bast tying the game. The tie would be short lived as just over a minute later Chris Van Os-Shaw would take a pass from Austin Parmiter on a 2-on-1 and blast it past Potvin. The Saints extended their lead at the start of the third period, with Brett Trentham snapping one off the post and in to make it 3-1 early in the frame. The Wolverines answered back when a solid wrister from Jaedon Leslie would cap off a strong shift from Whitecourt to make it a 3-2 game, but with just over five minutes left in the third the Saints would pull away. First, Olsen would score on the power play to restore the two goal lead for Spruce Grove, and then TJ Lloyd would snap one past Potvin to make it 5-2. Parmiter added an empty net goal to give the Saints a 6-2 win, a series sweep and the chance to play for a fifth AJHL Championship against either the Okotoks Oilers or Brooks Bandits.
-Tom Strangward @TheOneNDTom