No one said it was going to be easy!
Despite finishing 28 points ahead of the Notre Dame Argos, the Prince Albert Mintos knew they would have their hands full when the best-of-five Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League quarter-final series got under way on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
For the first 25 minutes or so of the series opener Minto coach Ken Morrison thought it was more than just their hands that were full.
“I don’t know if we were nervous, but it looked like our skates had cement in them,” said Morrison moments after the Mintos hung on for a 6-4 victory. “Sometimes you want to play so good you get worked up. The bottom line is we got the ‘W’.”
Notre Dame, which snuck into the post season on the final weekend of the regular season, jumped into a 2-1 first-period advantage and increased that margin to 3-1 early in the middle frame. The Mintos then got untracked and scored three straight goals before the second intermission and increased their lead with their second power-play goal of the game just over a minute into the third period.
“When they went ahead by two we could have got frustrated, but we stuck with it and got a couple back,” said Morrison.
“They (Notre Dame) work hard and at times outworked us,” added Morrison. “But I honestly believe we will do better down there. We just have to go out and play like we can and not be nervous.”
Joel Blaquiere and Adam Osczevski each scored twice for the Mintos with Ryan Duret and Justin Boyer adding singles. Boyer also chipped in a pair of assists and Osczevski had one helper giving both a three-point outing. Bryton Sayers, the scoring leader among defensemen for the entire league in the regular season, also had a pair of assists.
Angus Scott, Jordan Berger, Lindsay McLellan and Brett Radford replied for the Argos.
Tanner Burgardt made 18 saves, including a couple of crucial ones during a late scramble in front of the Prince Albert goal while the Argos had six attackers, to get the win while Zach Sawchenko turned aside 30 shots in the Notre Dame goal.
The Mintos entered the game having had little to play for in the last two weeks after they nailed down first place and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs in mid-February. Morrison, who was a head coach for his first-ever playoff game after being an assistant to Tim Leonard the last two seasons, said the players weren’t the only ones anxious for the game.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nerved up,” said Morrison. “You lose this one and then go down there…We needed to win this first one at home and if we go down there and win then they are in a pretty deep hole.”
Prince Albert will take their 1-0 series lead to Notre Dame on Sunday with Game 3 set for a 7 p.m. start on Tuesday at the Art Hauser Centre.
All of the other playoff matchups also started on Friday with Yorkton Harvest surprising the Regina Pat Canadians 4-2, Moose Jaw Generals defeated the Saskatoon Blazers 3-1 and the Saskatoon Contacts got past the Battlefords Stars 5-3.