The Dauphin Kings and Steinbach Pistons are heading to game seven in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship series.
After splitting the first two games in Steinbach, the series shifted to Dauphin for games three and four, May 3 and 4.
Steinbach scored a 5-4 overtime win in game three, only for the Kings to bounce back with a 5-2 win in game four.
The Pistons blanked Dauphin, 2-0, in game five in Steinbach on Friday and had a chance to wrap up the series and claim the Turnbull Memorial Trophy, Sunday in game six in Dauphin. But the Kings stayed alive with a 2-0 victory of their own, setting the stage for the winner-take-all showdown in game seven, which goes, Wednesday in Steinbach.
Kings head coach and general manager Doug Hedley said the two teams match up pretty well, as the series is showing.
“When we get tough on pucks and hard on pucks and win stick battles, we’re a tough team to beat. And playing fast tonight, I thought we played real well,” he said, adding he felt the Kings deserved better, noting they had more chances than the Pistons did. “But at the same time, you have to give credit to (Steinbach goalie Will) Hambly. He played real well. The bottom line is we found a way,” he said.
What impressed Hedley the most about the game six victory and the third period when the Kings stayed the course and limited Steinbach’s scoring chances.
“We really stayed on them. We were relentless on pucks. Any chance they did have came from the blueline. There was nothing really in tight. So it was a good effort,” he said.
That has been the case for pretty much the whole series, Hedley said.
“Now our 20 year olds are our top guys, whether its Kaden Bryant, whether its Nakodan Greyeyes, (Matthew) Rathbone and (Logan) Calder can step up and win us a championship,” he said.
The line of Garrett Hrechka, who scored the game winner five minutes into the second period, Jeriah Shantz and Jayden Harris was outstanding in games four and six and produced offensively in both those games. The challenge facing the Kings in game seven is the small ice surface at the T.G. Smith Centre in Steinbach.
“In Steinbach, it’s so small there is no neutral zone. And halfway through a period, there’s so much snow the puck is bouncing. So it’s going to come down to a break and we’ve just got to make sure it’s us that gets the break,” Hedley said.
A break is how the Pistons won game five, 2-0, as Jack Rogers was the recipient of a shot that bounced off the glass behind the Kings net right to him and he deposited it into the open net on a power play.
Steinbach added an empty-net goal with four seconds left.
One thing the Kings can do better in Steinbach, Hedley said, is get to rebounds. In Sunday’s win, the Kings had more second shots in the first period than they had in the last two games in Steinbach.
“We’ve got to fight through it, try to find a way to get those second shots,” he said.
With two days between games, the Kings will have a chance to heal a bit as a few players are fighting colds. Monday will be a day of rest and they will get back on the ice Tuesday before leaving for Steinbach that afternoon.
Hedley has no plans to change the game plan, stating the Kings just have to keep winning battles, stay on the defensive side of the puck and be patient.
“The biggest thing is when we control the neutral zone, with even numbers and our D are up and playing aggressive and holding our blueline, we’re a tough team to beat. We’ve just got to make sure we make them work for everything they get and be confident that good teams don’t count on breaks, they make breaks count. That’s what we’ve got to do,” he said.
To counter the challenge of a smaller ice surface, the Kings need keep the game simple and smart.
“Everything has got to get behind their D. There’s no neutral zone, so you can’t be coming up the middle. You’ve just got to make sure you come up the walls and shut the walls down on them, because they do come at you hard and their D-men like to jump in as the second wave,” he said. “So you’ve really got to be smart on the rush and pick up those guys coming in.”
Hedley likes his team’s chances in game seven.
“We’ve been a good road team all year. There’s nothing better,” he said.