Five Teams Advance, One Spot Remains in Division Semi Finals

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(2) Whitecourt Wolverines vs. (7) Grande Prairie Storm
Wolverines win series 3-0

The Whitecourt Wolverines left nothing to chance Sunday in the third game of their first round series against the Storm. Scoring six unanswered goals, the Wolverines came back to win a 6-1 contest Sunday in Grande Prairie, sweeping the series.

Justin Young had a goal and three points while Morgan Messenger, Liam Motley and Mitch Lipon each had multi-point games. Pierce Diamond was solid once again in net, making 26 saves for his third straight playoff victory.

Eight different players scored goals for the Wolverines in the series with Young’s four leading the way. Motley had three while Joseph Nardi and Lipon each finished with a pair of goals.  Just three players scored goals for the Storm, who will head into another offseason without a playoff victory. Dolan Bjornson was the lone member of the Storm to finish with more than a single point.

It was a relatively easy battle for the Wolverines, who were still tested in the three-game series.

The Wolverines will now meet the Spruce Grove Saints in the North Division semi-final in the first post-season meeting for the two teams since the 2013 AJHL North Division final.  That series is scheduled to begin Friday at the Scott Safety Centre.

(3) Spruce Grove Saints vs. (6) Drayton Valley Thunder
Saints win series 3-0

After winning both home games to begin the series, the Spruce Grove Saints were challenged by the Drayton Valley Thunder in the third game of the series, but found a way to prevail on an overtime goal by Garan Magnes.

Josh Harris led the Saints in points throughout the series, with a pair of goals and six points over the three games. Conner Lukan had a goal and four points while a trio of players each finished with three points. Eric Benshadle and Eric Olson each scored a pair of goals in the series.

Good starts were key to the Saints, who outscored the Thunder 4-1 in the first period of all three games in the season series.

The Thunder had their playoff losing streak extended to 14 games by the Saints. The Thunder have also now lost four straight first round playoff series to four different teams. Their last playoff victory came Mar. 6, 2013 against the Bonnyville Pontiacs.

Nolan Krewusik led the way for the Thunder with a goal and three points while teammate Connor Mowatt finished behind him with a pair of points. Tyler Benko, Zach Cox and Nicholas Sutter also scored in the series for the Thunder.

(4) Bonnyville Pontiacs vs. (5) Sherwood Park Crusaders
Pontiacs win series 3-1

In the only first round North Division series to go longer than three games, the Bonnyville Pontiacs closed out the matchup against the Sherwood Park Crusaders Monday with a 5-2 win.

Though their series started off on the wrong foot, they quickly rebounded to win three straight games. What’s more impressive is how they accomplished those victories, scoring 11 of their 15 goals at even-strength. They also added two empty-net goals and a pair of power play goals in the four-game series.

Leading the Pontiacs were Ryan Piche and PJ Marrocco, who each recorded seven points through the four games. Defenceman Tyler Podgorenko had four points in the four games while Derek Brown and Ryan Symington each had a pair of goals.

It’s hard to gauge the success of Sandro Silvestre in the series. He won all three games for the Pontiacs, which is the one stat many will say matters the most. The Cru didn’t test Silvestre much in the series though, only taking 75 shots on him, 67 of which he saved. He faced just 32 shots through the first two games. Had it not been for the Pontiacs’ offence, game three might have been a different story, with Silvestre allowing five goals on 23 shots.

Going forward, special teams will need to be an area of focus for the Pontiacs. They utilized just two of 17 opportunities in the first round and allowed four power play goals by the Cru on just 14 power play opportunities for the Cru.

Without either of Zac Klassen or Jake Morrissey, the Cru were fighting an uphill battle, one Brandon Vogel almost won for Sherwood Park. Vogel made 152 saves on 165 shots. Normally, that would be enough to win a few games, especially when the team gave up over half of the goals Bonnyville scored in the series Sunday in a 7-5 loss, but it just never materialized for the Cru.

Tyler Maltby and Ty Readman once again led the way offensively for the Cru with five points each. Maltby was the only member of the Cru to score more than one goal in the series.

The Pontiacs will now advance to face the top-seeded Fort McMurray Oil Barons starting Saturday.

(2) Canmore Eagles @ (7) Olds Grizzlys
Grizzlys win 3-0

Game #3: Without a shadow of a doubt, Ben Giesbrecht was the reason the Grizzlys were able to take both games in Canmore. Sunday he did it again as the Grizzlys would defeat the Canmore Eagles 4-3 in overtime to sweep their opening round series.

In front of the home crowd, the Grizzlys wouldn't take long to open the scoring as Try Thompson (assist to Austin Pickford @3:16) would beat Ryan Bontorin for his first of the post-season. Canmore would respond later in the opening frame as Adam Tisdale (assists to Trevor Van Steinburg and Brett Stewart @14:14) beat Giesbrecht for his first of the post-season. The Eagles would get multiple opportunities but the period would finish even at one. Shots favored the Eagles 21-8.

Canmore would continue to push in the second and would take their first lead of the night. Adam Tisdale (assists to Trevor Van Steinburg and Travis Verveda @2:22) second of the game on the power play made it 2-1 Eagles. Later in the period Brett Stewart (assists to Logan Ferguson and Braden Saretsky @12:19) would get his second of the series to extend the Canmore lead to 3-1 after two.  Shots favored the Eagles 14-8 in the middle stanza and 35-16 in the hockey game.

Canmore and Olds would get into a bit of a track meet as the two clubs would trade chances. Late in the period Chase Olsen (assists to Try Thompson and Landon Gross @15:28) would score his second of series to cut the deficit to one. In the final minute of the third, the Grizzlys would pull their goaltender and Try Thompson (assists to Chase Olsen and Landon Gross @19:34) would get his second of the night to send the game to overtime. Shots favored the Grizzlys 13-11 in the third but were 46-29 Eagles after regulation.

Late in the first overtime period, Landon Gross (assists to Brad Girard @15:48) would break the Eagles fans hearts while sending the hometown crowd into a frenzy as he would pot his second of the series. Shots favored the Eagles 8-7 in overtime and 54-36 in the game.

Ben Giesbrecht made 50+ saves in all three games of the opening round. Olds will travel to Brooks on Friday night to open the South Division Semi-Finals.

(4) Okotoks Oilers @ (5) Camrose Kodiaks
Oilers win 3-0

Game #3: The Okotoks Oilers had no interest in playing two games in Camrose this post-season as they would edge Kodiaks 2-1 in game three to sweep the opening round series.

Okotoks would get plenty of chances in the opening 20 minutes, but Patrick Gora would turn away every chance in the period. Shots favored the Oilers 11-5 in the first.

The second period would see just one goal as Okotoks would take the lead when Nolan Thompson (unassisted @14:50) would beat Gora for his second of the playoffs on a penalty shot. Camrose would have more opportunities in the second, but they were unable to solve Riley Morris. Shots favored Okotoks 13-9 in the second and 24-14 in the hockey game.

Jordan Xavier's (assist to Tyler Levine @6:29) first goal of the series would give the Oilers a bit of breathing room early in the third. Camrose would throw everything they had at Okotoks in the final 13:31 and finally Cooper Johnson (assists to Jacob Kendall and Jack Thomas @17:16) would break Morris' shutout bid with less than three minutes left. The Kodiaks would push for the equalizer, but Okotoks would hang on for a 2-1 victory. Shots favored the Kodiaks 15-8 in the third but were 32-29 for the Oilers.

With their series sweep of the Kodiaks and Olds sweeping Canmore, the Oilers will now play the winner of the Drumheller / Calgary Canucks series.

(3) Calgary Canucks @ (6) Drumheller Dragons
Series tied 2-2

It will be down to a one game winner take all on Wednesday as the Canucks and Dragons split the two games on Sunday and Monday.

Game #3: Drumheller would score early and often in game three as they would take a 2-1 series lead with a 3-2 win over the Canucks on Sunday afternoon.

Blake Kleiner (assist to Nate Keeley @1:53) would score his first of the playoffs to bring the hometown fans to their feet early in the game. Just over four minutes later Nate Keeley (assist to Markus Boguslavsky @6:00) would get his first of the series beating Logan Drackett to make it 2-0 Dragons. Just past the midway mark of the first and Markus Boguslavsky (assists to Andrew Kartusch and Troy Dudley @10:49) would score Drumheller's third goal on their sixth shot to chase Drackett from between the pipes. Shots ended up even 12-12 in the opening frame.

Early in the second, the Canucks would get on the board with a power play goal as Brayden Brown (assists to Zac McNeill and Brett Van Os @2:23) would put the puck behind Hunter Virostek for his first of the series. Drumheller would double up the Canucks on the shot clock 10-5 in the second and 22-17 through 40 minutes.

Calgary would get a majority of the chances in the third but it wasn't until the dying seconds that they were able to get a shot past Virostek as Zac McNeill (assist to Ben Assad @19:41) would score his third of the series 3-2 Dragons. Shots favored the Canucks 10-5 in the third and finished even at 27.

Caiden Kreitz made all 21 saves after he replaced Logan Drackett between the pipes for the Canucks. On the other side, Markus Boguslavsky and Nate Keeley led the Dragons offense with two points each.

Game #4: Logan Drackett had a bounce back game for the Canucks on Monday as they force a deciding fifth game against the Dragons following a 1-0 victory.

The defense came to play in the first as the two teams combined for 11 shots but no goals. Calgary held a 7-4 shot edge on Drumheller after one.

The Canucks would get a bulk of the chances in the second, but Hunter Virostek was equal to the task making all ten saves as teams would remain scoreless after 40. Shots would once again favor the Canucks this time 10-6 and 17-10 in the hockey game.

An early high-sticking penalty to Bradley Stonnell would give the Canucks a chance to open the scoring, and that's what Coby Mack (assists to Josh Giacomin and Zac McNeill @1:52) would do as he would drive his second of the series. Drumheller would push for the equalizer in the third, but they were unable to beat Logan Drackett. Shots favored the Dragons 10-6 in the third but would finish 23-20 for the Canucks.

The two teams will be heading back to Calgary for game five on Wednesday night. The winner of the game will take on the Okotoks Oilers in the South Division Semi-Finals.

By Robert Murray @NovaCanuck (North Division)

By Chris Colwell @Cjcolwell (South Division)