PeeWees kick off postseason right
As if the dump of snow we got last week was not reminder enough that winter is not over, the Jasper PeeWee Bears kicked off the playoffs with the intent of extending their winter season a few more weeks. The Bears drew the Slave Lake Thunder in round one, and charitably the Thunder agreed to play two games here in Jasper. Player-for-player these teams match well, but in their only regular season meeting, Jasper dominated on the strength of solid team play. But the playoffs are different and Jasper was going to have to stick to that game to advance to the second round.
The Bears got off to an unusually fast start on Saturday. Just over a minute in, Tanner Carlton, who was on fire all weekend, converted a wrap around to give the Bears the early lead. The Bears were relentless on the puck in the first, holding the Thunder to just three shots, all of which net minder Donovan Fawcett easily smothered. Carlton finished off the period with his second goal of the game, banging one in from the side of the net and giving Jasper a two-goal cushion heading into the first intermission.
All season long, the Bears have struggled in the second period, and this game was no exception. Okay, they scored three times, but they got away from their game. Two of their goals were scored by Baden Koss who has made a living this season finishing on the top line. The third was from Liam Crozier who poked in a loose puck at the side of the net to cap off one of his strongest games this year. But Slave Lake got one back, and you could see that their top skaters had gotten into the game.
In the third, although still not in top form, Jasper played well enough. As usual, Donovan kept them in it. He came up big on Slave Lake breakaways in three separate occasions, shutting out the Thunder for the final 20. Baden Koss completed his first career hat trick in spectacular fashion, skating coast-to-coast and beating the Slave Lake net minder low glove. Game one ended with Jasper on top 6-1.
The first two rounds of PeeWee playoffs follow a two-game, total-goals format. With a five-goal hill to climb, Bears’ Coach Eric Bouchard warned his team before the game that Slave Lake would come out hard. And they did. In their first shift the Thunder got as many shots on net as they took in the entire first period of game one. Donovan stopped them all. Against the grain of play, Bears’ Owen Kearnan converted a pass from Sebastian Golla and Koss to put Jasper on the score sheet four minutes in. Not broken by this setback, the Thunder kept rolling, and except for Donovan’s talents between the pipes and some excellent play by Jasper’s D-line, they would have had Jasper on their heels. Instead, Jasper took a two-goal lead into the dressing room on the strength of a Nash Hilworth goal with only 18 seconds on the clock. Hilworth smartly poked in a rebound given up on a Michael Hayashi breakaway.
I said at the outset that these two games were very different. In game one, Jasper dominated the opening period and then got away from their game. In game two, Jasper struggled in the opening frame, but regained form in the final 40 minutes. Key in both games was outstanding defense. Hayashi ended up scoring twice in game two and getting a ton of shots. Jacob Bartziokas let some bombs go from the point and made some daring, well-timed pinches to hold the puck in the Slave Lake zone. Dexter Fawcett was just steady, with good gaps and slick angles on rushing Thunder forwards. And Jacob Bouchard played his usual, solid game holding the line and clogging up the neutral zone to offensive chances. I’d call it a defensive battle, but Jasper kept poking holes in the Slave Lake back line. So it was really a Jasper Bears defensive coming-out party.
Apollo Hardman scored one minute into the second period, Golla added a couple more in the final frame and Koss had a buzzer beater as Jasper lit the lamp a total of eight times. Although he was held off the score sheet, Ty Crozier had his best game of the season with a couple of breakaways and tireless forechecking. Kudo’s also to Janelle Tank who was as hard on the puck as she’s been all season. On Sunday, Slave Lake managed two goals on 26 shots, but this was not nearly enough. Our Bears advance to round two of the playoffs with a 14-3 victory on aggregate.
Up next is Whitecourt. Game one will be March 10 at 5 p.m. and game two will be in Whitecourt the following day.