Wolverines and Oil Barons Take Lead in North Division Semi-Finals

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(1) Fort McMurray Oil Barons vs. (4) Bonnyville Pontiacs
Barons lead series 3-1

It’s shouldn’t come as a surprise now, but momentum can change quickly in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs.

The Fort McMurray Oil Barons lost home-ice advantage heading into Bonnyville with their series tied at a game apiece, but returned home firmly in the drivers seat after a pair of road victories to push the Pontiacs to the brink of elimination.

That success came largely from the MOB’s rookies including Nick Nietubyc and Nicholas Leeseberg, though the spotlight remained centred on unheralded rookie Jarred White, who scored the game-winning goal in both contests.

Tuesday, he scored off a long-range shot midway through the third in a back-breaking goal for the Pontiacs, who eventually fell by a 4-3 final in that game. Wednesday, the MOB coughed up a 2-0 first period lead as both teams played into double overtime before White buried a rebound off a rush by Will Conley to clinch victory for the MOB, winning the game 3-2.

It should go without mentioning at this point, but it’d be impossible not to mention the contributions of Eric Szudor between the pipes. His 47-save effort in game four helped the MOB to victory. He’s also allowed just one third period goal through four games.

The Pontiacs haven’t been bad by any means, just incomplete at points. Alden Dupuis had a hat trick in Tuesday’s contest where the Pontiacs took a 3-2 lead into the third period and Sandro Silvestre put together a 49-save effort in Wednesday’s loss.

Friday, the Pontiacs will look to send the series back to Bonnyville when the two teams square off at the Casman Centre. Puck drop is schedule for 7:30 p.m.

(2) Whitecourt Wolverines vs. (3) Spruce Grove Saints
Wolverines lead 3-1

Winning a pair of road games has helped the Whitecourt Wolverines push the Spruce Grove Saints up against a wall.

Game three saw the Wolverines score twice early and fend off a late goal from the Saints to win by a 2-1 final. The pivotal fourth game of the series saw the Wolverines unleash their offence in a 6-2 victory.

Joseph Nardi continued to rack up points at a furious rate, tallying at least three points in a game for the fourth time this post-season and second time in the series, though his teammate Justin Young has continued to be impressive as well. Young was held to just a goal and three points at the Grant Fuhr Arena, but still maintains his playoff lead in goals while Nardi now leads in points.

Good starts have been key to the Wolverines, who have scored six of their 12 goals in the series in the first period. As a result, they’ve led for 109 minutes and 49 second of the series. Early starts have helped both teams as the Saints won after scoring first in game one and managed to take game two in overtime after a pair of first period goals.

The Saints will want an injection of offence, having scored just eight goals in the entire series. Josh Harris has been held scoreless in his last three games. Ryan McKinnon has three of his team’s goals in the series and will be counted on Friday in a must-win game.

Gord Thibodeau and his team team won’t want to leave anything to chance Friday, but they’ll be confident playing at the Scott Safety Centre with a chance to return to the Gas Drive Cup North Division Final.

By Robert Murray @NovaCanuck