Yorkton This Week will be previewing every round of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League post-season.
The Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League playoff matches weren’t set in stone until the final weekend of action.
In the final regular-season games, the Moose Jaw Generals jumped ahead of the Regina Pat Canadians for third place in the league and the Notre Dame Argos leapfrogged the Tisdale Trojans for the final playoff spot.
Here is a preview of the SMAAAHL’s best-of-five first-round playoff series.
(1) Prince Albert Mintos (34-7-3-0, 71 points) vs. (8) Notre Dame Argos (20-21-1-2, 43 points)
Season series: Mintos 4-0. Prediction: Mintos in 3.
Why the Mintos should win: The Mintos are the clear-cut favourites to represent Saskatchewan at the Telus Cup this year. It seems every series will be theirs to lose in the SMAAAHL.
Against their first-round opponent, it appears as long as the Mintos don’t look too far ahead past the Argos and keep their play on the ice simple, they should be able to walk away with three quick wins.
All-star centre Jason Duret has had a hot stick all year, but he is going into the playoffs on an extra bright note. The 5-foot-8, 170-pounder has been on the score sheet in 11 consecutive games, racking up seven goals and 18 points.
In between the pipes, Lane Michasiw and Tanner Burgardt have been one of the top one-two punches in the league. It seems the Mintos have a win-win situation on whether they go with 16-year-old Michasiw or 17-year-old Burgardt.
Why the Argos could win: If Notre Dame comes out flying, they might be able to catch the Mintos off guard if they underestimated them.
The Argos’ goaltending has to be on top of its game. If either Zach Sawchenko or Alexi Thibaudeu can steal the first game in Prince Albert, the team could rally around the win and pull off the major upset.
Notre Dame needs some of their secondary scorers such as Regina Pats prospect Rylee Zimmer, Salt Lake City, UT native Scott Angus, and Winnipeg native Colin Burston to step up to match the Mintos’ elite offensive depth.
(2) Saskatoon Contacts (28-8-7-1, 64 points) vs. (7) Battleford Stars (19-18-6-1, 45 points)
Season series: Contacts 2-1-1. Prediction: Contacts in 4.
Why the Contacts should win: Led by SMAAAHL leading goal-scorer Vukie Mpofu and Lethbridge Hurricanes second-rounder Kolten Olynek, the Contacts have the most dangerous offense in the league. They have scored 58 more goals than the Stars, averaging over a-goal-per -game more.
Similar to the Mintos-Argos series, the Contacts, who are the defending champions, should be able to best the Stars if they keep it simple and don’t look too far down the playoff road.
Why the Stars could win: Battleford doesn’t have a single scorer who averaged a point per game in the regular-season; therefore, they need every line to step up and generate offense in the second season, especially veteran forwards Regan Yew, Austin Duzan, and Ashton Clark.
To contain the Contacts’ talented snipers, the Stars have to transition the puck out of their own zone quickly and smoothly. They will be depending on defenders such as 6-foot-1 veteran Eric Pfeifer and 6-foot-5 rookie Jaiden Focht to be physical and keep the Bridge City Boys to the outside.
(3) Moose Jaw Generals (26-13-4-1, 57 points) vs. (6) Saskatoon Blazers (21-18-4-1, 47 points)
Season series: Blazers 2-1-1 Prediction: Blazers in 5.
Why the Blazers should win: Saskatoon is going into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league with a 9-1 record in their last 10 games. They should be able to carry over this momentum into the playoffs against the Generals.
Blazers rookies Lane Pederson, a Seattle Thunderbirds draft pick, and Connor Hobbs, a Prince Albert Raiders draft pick, have been vital to the Blazers’ success. It appears one can expect strong post-season showings from them with the young guns showing improvements with every passing game.
Why the Generals could win: Moose Jaw goaltender Ryland Pashovitz is strong enough between the pipes to singlehandedly win a series. He has been lights out in his 17-year-old season, maintaining a .926 save percentage, 1.83 average, and racking up five shutouts.
After leaving the Notre Dame Hounds program in the offseason, Ben Duperrault has blossomed in his first year with the Generals, potting 26 goals and 53 points in 44 games. Duperrault, along with sophomore Rhett Gardner and rookie Cole Ryrk, are talented enough up front to help the Generals outmatch the Blazers on the score sheet.
(4) Regina Pat Canadians (25-13-5-1, 56 points) vs. (5) Yorkton Harvest (22-14-5-3, 52 points)
Season series: Pat Canadians 2-0-2. Prediction: Pat Canadians in 5.
Why the Pat Canadians should win: Regina has given Yorkton the most trouble out of every team in the league in the Harvest’s outstanding second half of the season. All three of their games in the New Year have gone into overtime, with the Pat Canadians winning one and the other two ending in draws.
Sam Ruopp will make it tough for the Harvest in front of the net and along the boards. The Prince George Cougars prospect is one of the top shutdown defencemen in the league, using his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame to his advantage.
Regina has no shortage of elite scorers in their arsenal. Leading goal-scorer Zachary Zborosky, Kamloops Blazers prospect Mitch Lipon, 45-point scorer Tristan Frei, and Moose Jaw Warriors prospect Jayden Halbgewachs will be a handful for Yorkton’s back end.
Why the Harvest could win: It appears there is not a team in the league the Harvest can’t knock off in the post-season because of their winning swagger. Their 12-1-3-1 record since Christmas has them beaming with confidence.
The Harvest will need strong goaltending to contain the Pat Canadians’ high-powered offense. As it stands, it seems they will be running with Carson Bogdan between the pipes. The Regina native, who has maintained a 3.02 average and .900 save percentage in 27 contests, has been one of main reasons for Yorkton’s mid-season turnaround.
Leading goal-scorer Lynden Pastachak has to come up big, but he can’t do everything on his own. So he will need teammates such as Dakota Odgers, Jaden Kreklewich, Logan Herchak, and Eric Meyer to take some weight off his shoulders against the Queen City Kids.