After two weeks of seemingly meaningless games, the Prince Albert Mintos finally play one that matters tonight when they host the Notre Dame Argos in the first game of their best-of-five Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League quarter-final series at the Art Hauser Centre.
“We’re looking forward to it,” says Mintos’ head coach Ken Morrison. “After we clinched first place it was tough playing games that didn’t mean too much.”
On paper, the match-up with the Argos doesn’t look like it should pose much of a problem for the Mintos. Prince Albert won all four regular-season meetings with their first-round opponents and outscored them 21-8. Those statistics don’t mean much to Morrison as he is cautious entering his first playoff series as a head coach.
“I don’t think you can take anybody lightly,” admits Morrison. “They play us hard and are very physical.”
“We have to outskate them and outwork them,” adds Morrison, who has been through the playoff rigors the last two years as an assistant coach to former coach Tim Leonard. “Hopefully we get a little bit of luck and stay healthy.”
Staying healthy is the key as last year en route to reaching the championship final against the Saskatoon Contacts, Prince Albert got banged up pretty bad in the first two rounds and when the final series began, the Mintos needed to draw players from the bantam Venice House Raiders just to ice a full roster.
Knock on wood, the Mintos have avoided any major injuries this year and the result was a 34-7-3 record in the regular season. That performance produced a seven-point cushion over the Contacts for first place and a 28-point margin over the Argos, who snuck into the eighth and final playoff berth on the final weekend when they edged out the Tisdale Trojans by a single point.
Another factor that weighs heavily in favour of the Mintos is experience. Prince Albert has eight players who went through the battle last year including their top three scorers – Jason Duret, Lance Yaremchuk and Bryton Sayers. The Argos have just five players who were with the team last year.
Prince Albert also gets the edge in goaltending as the tandem of Tanner Burgardt and Lane Michasiw allowed just 85 goals in 44 games, by far the lowest in the league. In fact, Michasiw, a first-year netminder from Saskatoon, had the second-best goals-against average at 1.71 while Burgardt was fourth at 2.03.
After tonight’s game, the series switches to Wilcox for a match on Sunday with Game 3 scheduled for Tuesday at the Art Hauser Centre. Should the series be extended beyond that point, Game 4 would be played in Wilcox on Thursday and a fifth and deciding game would be back in Prince Albert on Mar. 9.
Tonight’s contest begins at 7 p.m. with a large crowd expected as Canadian Tire has given out 1,000 tickets to fans as part of a playoff promotion.