By Dave Leaderhouse
Photo Credit Durr Photography
The Estevan Bruins long ago locked up the Viterra Division banner and knew they were going to be the No. 3 seed entering the playoffs.
Entering the final three weeks of the regular schedule it looked like they were going to be drawing any one of four teams as their quarter-final opponent with all four of those teams – Yorkton Terriers, Humboldt Broncos, Notre Dame Hounds and Weyburn Red Wings – laying claim to the sixth spot overall at some point.
With that fierce battle came some swings with each team chasing the Bruins winning a few and then losing a few, but Yorkton got hot at the right time and emerged as the final team to avoid the best-of-five Wild Card round.
In fact, the Terriers were the hottest team down the stretch collecting points in their final eight games and that recent success has to have Estevan a little concerned despite finishing 16 points clear of Yorkton in the overall standings.
The Bruins, who also finished strong with three straight victories, also won the season series with the Terriers (four games to two), but the last three meetings were all decided by one goal with Yorkton claiming two of those triumphs.
Estevan bolted out of the starter’s blocks this year and built a sizeable lead in the Viterra Division standings. Included in their quick start were three victories over the Terriers – 4-2 in Yorkton on Oct. 11, 6-5 in overtime on Oct. 25 in Estevan and 5-0 one week later, also in Estevan. The two teams then squared off again in mid-November in Yorkton with the Terriers squeaking out a 3-2 decision and then it was almost three months before they would meet again with the Bruins hanging on for a 5-4 verdict in Estevan on Feb. 7. The final clash was during the final week of the regular schedule and with the Terriers needing a win to continue their pursuit of the sixth seed they prevailed with a 2-1 victory.
Overall, the Bruins were far more explosive offensively finishing more than 60 goals ahead of the Terriers (225-162), but the glaring stat between the two is that Estevan allowed seven more goals against (201-194).
In the head-to-head meetings, Zach Goberis of the Bruins was the runaway leader in points with four goals and six assists while Yorkton’s top producer was Jared Legien with six points on two goals and four helpers. Estevan captain Lynnden Pastachak also had a strong series recording seven points while Michael McChesney and Matt McNeil of the Bruins, along with Corwin Stevely of the Terriers, all contributed five points each.
Both teams finished the season with starting netminders that never began the year with their respective teams. Yorkton acquired Nathan Hargrave from Weyburn in early November while Curtis Meger began the season with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders before being reassigned in October. As a result, the current back-ups Nathan Alalouf from Estevan and Matt Vernon from Yorkton got in just as much action in the season series as the presumed starters for the quarter-final round.
There are so many things that can decide a playoff round and special teams is one of them. Estevan was 6/35 on the power play in the season series against Yorkton while the Terriers managed just two man-advantage goals in 25 opportunities against the Bruins.
This series, like the Nipawin-Humboldt clash, will follow an alternate home-game format with Game 1 taking place in Estevan on Friday before moving north to Yorkton for Game 2 on Saturday. The series returns to Estevan on Tuesday and will be back in Yorkton on Wednesday and if it goes beyond the minimum four games the remaining matches will be played next Friday in Estevan, Mar. 26 (4:30 p.m. start) in Yorkton and Mar. 28 in Estevan.
Both teams lack playoff experience as the Terriers were swept in the Wild Card round by La Ronge a year ago while the Bruins dropped a hard-fought quarter-final series to Nipawin before going winless as the host team at the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup. There was a sizeable turnover in personnel from both teams making this series a new experience for most that are involved.