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On paper, the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals appear to be heavy favourites.
But the game is played on the ice, and Caps head coach Billy McGuigan predicts the St. Stephen Aces will provide a stiff test in the opening round of the 2019 MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) playoffs.
“We are going up against a very good hockey team,” warned McGuigan. “They have a real fast forward group and have some real team speed, they transition the puck really quick.
“We are going to have to be aware of that because they do create a lot of two-on-ones and odd-man rushes with their team speed.
“Their back end is pretty solid as well, and they have two goaltenders who can steal games. I don’t think the standings indicate how good of a team they really have. It’s going to be a tough first-round matchup.”
Game 1 in the best-of-seven Eastlink North Division series is at Eastlink Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“The season is a long grind, and you think of coming to the playoffs the whole year,” said Caps forward Sullivan Sparkes. “It’s going to be a pretty exciting ride, hopefully.”
Results of Caps-Aces regular-season games
- Sept. 21: Caps 6 at Aces 9.
- Oct. 12: Caps 6 at Aces 2.
- Oct. 18: Aces 1 at Caps 2.
- Oct. 25: Aces 2 at Caps 6.
- Nov. 3: Aces 1 at Caps 2.
- Dec. 15: Caps 6 at Aces 0.
- Jan. 10: Aces 1 at Caps 6.
- Jan. 15: Caps 4 at Aces 1.
Season Series Points Leaders
- Caps: TJ Shea, 10-8—18
- Aces: Zach Alchorn, 3-2—5
Summerside enters the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after finishing the regular season first overall in the 12-team league at 40-8-2 (won-lost-overtime losses). The Caps finished with 82 points, 39 more than St. Stephen (20-27-3), which qualified for the playoffs when the Miramichi Timberwolves (19-28-3) lost 5-1 to Edmundston (26-17-7) on Sunday.
“There are plenty of weapons that Summerside can throw at you, and they can beat you in a number of different ways,” said first-year Aces general manager and head coach Emery Olauson. “Their power play is lethal, five-on-five they score a lot and one thing that we are impressed by is how well they keep the puck out of their net, too.
“Not only do we have to find a way to stop a pretty potent offence, but we need to find a way to solve a pretty strong defence. It’s going to be a huge challenge, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about.”
McGuigan said the Caps, who won seven of eight regular-season meetings versus the Aces, are looking for a strong start to the series.
“You work all year for home-ice advantage, and you want to keep that,” said McGuigan. “It’s important that we win our games at home.
“We are going to be ready, the guys are focused and I know the guys are really looking forward to getting the playoffs going, and they have been for a while. We want to keep the game simple, pay attention to our details and make sure we are playing the right way.”
“We are going up against a very good hockey team. I don’t think the standings indicate how good of a team they really have. It’s going to be a tough first-round matchup.”
-Western Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan
“There are plenty of weapons that Summerside can throw at you, and they can beat you in a number of different ways. It’s going to be a huge challenge, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about.”
-Aces general manager and head coach Emery Olauson
Schedule for the series (All games start at 7 p.m.)
- Game 1: Saturday, March 16 – St. Stephen at Summerside.
- Game 2: Tuesday, March 19 – Summerside at St. Stephen.
- Game 3: Thursday, March 21 – St. Stephen at Summerside.
- Game 4: Saturday, March 23 – Summerside at St. Stephen.
- Game 5, if necessary: Monday, March 25 – St. Stephen at Summerside.
- Game 6, if necessary: Tuesday, March 26 – Summerside at St. Stephen.
- Game 7, if necessary: Thursday, March 28 – St. Stephen at Summerside.
When asked if everyone is available for Game 1, McGuigan said injured defenceman Jesse Annear is out for an extended period while forward and team captain TJ Shea remains day-to-day.
“We are trying to get through the week of practice with him and see how he feels,” said McGuigan referring to Shea, who had 64 points in 33 games before missing a good part of the second half with an injury.
McGuigan confirmed Dominik Tmej, the MHL’s goaltender of the year, will get the nod Saturday. Olauson said he hasn’t decided on his starter.
“They are a team that competes and plays hard, so to win we are going to have to match that,” said Sparkes. “We just can’t rely on our skill.
“We have to play with some grit, we have to play with some desire to get onto the next round.”
This year marks the second time the Aces have qualified for the playoffs.
“There are a lot of people talking about this year’s version of the Aces,” said Olauson. “This year, the boys earned the most wins in franchise history.
“Although it pales in comparison to the amount of wins teams like Summerside threw up on the board, it was a good year here. Fans are really rallying behind (the team), and I think we will play in front of packed houses here, and I’m sure it will be the same in Summerside on Saturday.”
This year’s Aces featured 10 MHL rookies who played at least 39 games.
“It’s a very new team, but they’ve come together nicely down the stretch,” said Olauson. “The future is bright, but we like to think the future will start Saturday. We are going to give it the old college try.”
How the Caps and Aces match up
- Caps: 40-8-2.
- Aces: 20-27-3.
- Caps: 22-3-0.
- Aces: 14-9-2.
- Caps: 18-5-2.
- Aces: 6-18-1.
- Caps: 247.
- Aces: 138.
- Caps: 120.
- Aces: 158.
- Caps: 28.6 per cent.
- Aces: 18.8 per cent.
- Caps: 87.9 per cent.
- Aces: 78.9 per cent.
Caps, Aces’ team leaders
- Caps: Brodie MacArthur, 110.
- Aces: Evan White, 40.
- Caps: Brodie MacArthur, 43.
- Aces: Brandon Costa, Liam Smith, Zach Alchorn, tied with 13.
- Caps: Brodie MacArthur, 67.
- Aces: Evan White, 33.
- Caps: Conor MacEachern, 48.
- Aces: Evan White, 40.
- Caps: Kallum Muirhead, 15.
- Aces: Liam Smith, 5.
- Caps: Brodie MacArthur, 4.
- Aces: Everett Hicks, Zach Alchorn, Liam Smith, tied with 1.
- Caps: Brodie MacArthur, 10.
- Aces: Liam Smith, 4.
- Caps: Dominik Tmej, 26.
- Aces: Joey May, 14.
- Caps: Dominik Tmej, 2.24.
- Aces: Joey May, 3.31.
- Caps: Dominik Tmej, .929.
- Aces: Joey May, .897.