Photo: Drayton Valley Thunder:
(2) Whitecourt Wolverines vs. (7) Grande Prairie Storm
Whitecourt leads 2-0
Heading to Grande Prairie, the Wolverines have accomplished their first goal in getting two wins. That doesn’t mean things came easy to them however, with Friday’s overtime victory being closer than they would’ve liked; constituting the Storm putting a brief scare into the Wolverines.
The Wolverines have once again used their offence to lead the way with Joseph Nardi’s six points in two games leading the league’s playoff scoring race. Liam Motley and Justin Young aren’t far behind with four points each as the series shifts to Revolution Arena for games Sunday and potentially Monday.
Pierce Diamond has also picked up his first two AJHL playoff victories, stopping 38 of 40 shots along the way. At the other end of the rink, the Wolverines have peppered Xavier Burghardt and Arik Weersink with 109 shots through the first two games. Even accounting for some potential error in shot tracking, that’s a crazy number of shots for the Storm to allow, a figure they’ll have to cut down on to have a hope of coming back in the series.
Now the Storm haven’t led at any point in either of the games after factoring in a 6-0 loss in game one Thursday, but there is optimism for the seventh-place team in the Viterra AJHL North Division. For one, the Storm won their last home game of the season series against the Wolverines near the end of the regular season.
The Storm were also a vastly better team at home, going 11-15-4 at home compared to a 4-23-3 road record. This season marked the first time since the 2013-14 campaign that the Storm recorded double digit home wins.
Special teams is also a factor on both sides. The Storm have yet to score a power play goal through two games, dropping to 2-for-27 in their last five post-season games. The Wolverines meanwhile have scored three of their nine goals on the power play, operating at a strong 25 per cent success rate on the man-advantage.
(3) Spruce Grove Saints vs. (6) Drayton Valley Thunder
Spruce Grove leads 2-0
In another geographically-friendly first round match up in the North Division, the Saints have charged out to a 2-0 lead against the Thunder, winning by a 3-1 score Thursday and following it up with a 5-1 victory Friday.
This series, like the one between Whitecourt and Grande Prairie, featured a close contest and a lopsided loss for the lower-seeded team. The Thunder never led in Thursday’s 3-1 loss, but held the game in a tight 2-1 score until the final two minutes when Josh Harris had to seal the game with an empty-netter.
Harris sits second in playoff scoring with five points while five other Saints players have a pair of points through the team’s first two post-season games. The two multi-point efforts were the fourth and fifth multipoint games of his AJH playoff career.
Brandon Wells tended the net for the Saints in game one, making 16 saves while Nolan Kent stepped in between the pipes Friday, making 21 saves for his first career AJHL playoff victory.
The question now becomes who the Saints turn to in the potential series-clinching game Sunday. Kent has been the team’s leader between the pipes and won his lone start in Drayton Valley, making 35 saves. Wells had yet to face the Thunder before Thursday.
For the Thunder, Parker Tobin has been the team’s saving grace through the first two games, getting credited with 49-save efforts in both contests and facing 105 shots total through games one and two combined.
Having scored 32 of their 157 goals this season the power play, the man-advantage continued to be a source of offence for the Thunder. Unfortunately, it has been their only source of offence with two power play goals on five chances.
Nicholas Sutter and Nolan Krewusik have scored for the Thunder in the series, though they’ll need other players to step up big time in game three if they’re to continue their playoff run.
(4) Bonnyville Pontiacs vs. (5) Sherwood Park Crusaders
Series tied 1-1
It doesn’t matter how they did it, but the Sherwood Park Crusaders are fortunate to be heading back home with a win from the first two games of their opening-round series against the Bonnyville Pontiacs.
The two clubs have combined to score six goals through the first two games, with the Cru winning a 2-1 contest Thursday, followed by a 2-1 overtime win for the Pontiacs Friday.
It’s not an ideal situation for the Pontiacs considering they’ve unloaded on rookie goaltender Brandon Vogel, taking 84 shots through the first two games. The 1999-born net minder from Fort Saskatchewan has held his own so far for the Cru, stopping 81 of those shots. The Cru have managed just 32 shots in the first two games of the series.
What is puzzling for the time being is the lack of offence for a series that features the league’s top goal scorer in Tyler Maltby and a bevy of offensive talent on the Pontiacs side.
Friday’s overtime goal came from the stick of Erik Donald, accounting for his fourth career AJHL playoff goal and his goal for the entire 2016-17 season. The type of depth scoring is only a good sign for the Pontiacs going forward, as they also received an opening goal from Brendan Holterhus in Friday’s game as well. If the Pontiacs top offensive players can get going, it could tip the scales in their favour.
Both teams are one-for-five on the man advantage throughout the first two games, leaving the advantage in the special teams department up for the taking in the next two games.
1998-born goaltender Sandro Silvestre has been sharp, stopping 29 of 32 shots, but will need to be at the top of his game as the Pontiacs go into enemy territory. The return to the Sherwood Park Arena will also open the possibility of redemption for Silvestre, who is 1-1 against the Cru on the road this season, but has allowed 10 goals over those two contests.
Sherwood Park is 2-1 at home against the Pontiacs this season, having won by scores of 4-1 and 6-1, but losing a 7-4 contest as well. The last time the two teams split the opening two games of a playoff series, the series went a full five games, with Sherwood Park winning it.
By Robert Murray @NovaCanuck