PREVIEW: Wolverines and Saints Showdown in North Division Final

Whitecourt, AB – The Whitecourt Wolverines (7-3) will take on the Spruce Grove Saints (4-0) in the third round of the AJHL playoffs.

This marks the second straight season the Wolverines and Saints will meet in the post-season and third overall.  The last time these teams met in the North Division Final, the Saints skated away victorious with a 4-1 series edge in 2013.  Last year the teams met in the second round of the playoffs and the Wolverines prevailed in a thrilling seven-game series.

The Wolverines have arrived in the North Division final after sweeping the Lloydminster Bobcats in round one and then winning a dramatic game seven in overtime against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in round two.  Thanks to a first-place finish in the North Division during the regular season, the Saints had a first-round bye and then made quick work of the Grande Prairie Storm in round two with a four-game sweep.

Whitecourt Wolverines (7-3) (H: 4-1 A: 3-2)

After a fairly convincing first-round sweep, the Wolverines were pushed to their limits in their second-round matchup against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons going the distance to seven games. The Wolverines were able to overcome adversary throughout the series with a season-ending injury to their playoff leading scorer Estian Coetzee in game one of the series.  Then, the Wolverines got out to a 3-1 lead in the series before seeing the Oil Barons claw their way back to force a deciding game seven back in Fort McMurray in front of a jam-packed and raucous Casman Centre.  Yannik Bertrand would provide the heroics in that game as he fired home the series-winning goal midway through overtime, it was his fourth goal of the series and second to come in overtime.  With the game seven victory, the Wolverines arrive in the North Division Final for a second consecutive season.

Through two rounds of the AJHL playoffs the Wolverines have the 7th best power play at 17.7%, scoring 9 times on 51 chances.  The Wolverines did the bulk of their damage on the man advantage in their first-round series against the Lloydminster Bobcats where they went 5/19.  On the penalty kill side of things, the Wolverines have the third best unit having allowed just 3 goals against on 38 man-disadvantage situations for a 92.1% efficiency.  During the second round, the Wolverines gave up just 1 power play goal against on 37 opportunities. 

The Wolverines return to the North Division finals for the second straight year and third time in their six years of existence.  The Wolverines saw consistent offensive production from several parts of their lineup throughout the second round with Ben Evanish leading the way recording a point in six of the seven games with 5 goals and 3 assists; he currently sits seconds in AJHL playoff scoring with 12 points.  After being held off the scoresheet in the first round, Yannik Bertrand had a coming out party in round two with 4 goals and 3 assists, including 2 overtime winners.  Liam Motley recorded 5 points in the series with 3 of them coming in game seven, 2 goals and 1 assist.  Jude Butler and Chase Haygarth brought some much-needed scoring depth as they both registered 4 points in the 7 games.  Defensively, the Wolverines were tasked with shutting down the league's second-best scorer from the regular season in Will Conley and after holding him and his linemates, Shane Fraser and Merritt Oszytko, to just 5 goals combined in the series, it's safe to say they succeeded.  Taking on the top unit primarily was the defense pairing of Ryan Grant and Matthew Monk.  Between the pipes, Xavier Potvin was his usual self, providing displays of goaltending brilliance throughout the series putting up a 2.70 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. 

Spruce Grove Saints (4-0) (H: 2-0 A: 2-0)

The Spruce Grove Saints return to the North Division Final after missing out last season when they were ousted from the AJHL playoffs in the second round by the Whitecourt Wolverines in seven games marking the first time since 2007 that the Saints did not reach at least the third-round of the post-season.  The Saints are a well-rested group after having a first-round bye and then sweeping the Grande Prairie Storm in round two, outscoring their opponent 28-2 in the four games.

The Saints power play was virtually unstoppable in their second-round series scoring 5 times on just 11 opportunities, while the penalty kill was indeed perfect, killing off all 11 chances the Storm had.

During the series, the Saints were able to dress the same lineup for all four games and saw a wide variety of contributions.  Leading the way in points were rookie Jordan Biro and 20-year-old veteran Austin Parmiter with 3 goals and 5 assists each.  All 18 skaters to dress in the series recorded at least two points and all but two skaters found the back of the net at least once.  Nolan Kent was superb allowing just 2 goals on 73 shots in the series and recording 3 shutouts. 

During the regular season, the Saints were powered offensively by the greatest individual performance in the AJHL in over a decade as forward Chris Van Os-Shaw became the first player in the league to score 50 goals since Mark Letestu achieved the feat back in 2005/2006 with the Bonnyville Pontiacs.  Van Os-Shaw not only led the AJHL in goals with 51 but also in points with 97, for his efforts he was named as the league's Most Valuable Player.  While Van Os-Shaw's season was one to behold and recognize, the Saints also saw major contributions from the likes of Chase Olsen, who picked up 16 goals and 17 assists in just 20 games with Spruce Grove after being acquired around the trade deadline from the Olds Grizzlys; Parker Saretsky had a sensational sophomore season with production totals of 22 goals and 38 assists after scoring just 7 goals and 8 assists as a rookie;  and the heart and soul of the Saints is their captain Josh Harris who was a point per game player in his fourth and final season with the Saints and in the process became the team's all-time leader in games played (225), goals (73), assists (112) and points (185).  Defensively, the Saints have one of the best defence cores in the entire league with Sean Comrie and Brad Forrest registering 30+ point seasons to go along with T.J. Lloyd, a nominee for defenceman of the year and member of the North Division All-League team.  Joining those three are veterans Jarrod Gourley, Tanner Hickey and Jamieson Ree.  Between the pipes, the Saints were forced to be creative this season after starter Nolan Kent sustained an early-season injury that held him out of action from the end of October until February.  Emerging was Hayden Missler who began the year with the Junior 'B' Wainwright Bisons, in Kent's absence he went 14-3-1.  After returning from injury, Kent regained his position in the crease and went 7-2-0 in the final month of the regular season.  Also of note, the Saints finished the regular season with the best power play (28.8%) and best penalty kill (87.6%), making them the first team to lead the league in both categories since 2013/2014 where again it was the Saints to do it (Credit: Tom Strangward, @TomStrangward).

North Division Final Series Schedule: Spruce Grove Saints(1) vs Whitecourt Wolverines(3) (Best of Seven)

Friday, March 30th, 2018 @ Spruce Grove (7:00 p.m.)
Saturday, March 31st, 2018 @ Spruce Grove (7:00 p.m.)
Monday, April 2nd, 2018 @ Whitecourt (7:30 p.m.)
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 @ Whitecourt (7:30 p.m.)
Friday, April 6th, 2018 @ Spruce Grove (7:00 p.m.) * If necessary
Sunday, April 8th, 2018 @ Whitecourt (7:30 p.m.) * If necessary
Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 @ Spruce Grove (7:00 p.m.) * If necessary

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Regular Season Series: Whitecourt: 1-4-1 Spruce Grove 5-1-0

The Wolverines and Saints engaged in a very low-scoring season series that saw the Saints outscore the Wolverines 14-7 in the six games combined.  The teams haven't faced one another in nearly three and a half months and the Wolverines haven't been to the Grant Fuhr Arena in five and a half months.

Sept 15 @ Whitecourt       3-2OT SG
Sept 16 @ Spruce Grove  3-1 SG
Oct 13   @ Spruce Grove  2-0 SG
Oct 18   @ Spruce Grove  3-1 WCT
Nov 17  @ Whitecourt       4-1 SG
Dec 16  @ Whitecourt       1-0 SG

Power plays:
Whitecourt – 3/24 (12.5%)
Spruce Grove – 3/16 (18.8%)

Offensive leaders:
Whitecourt – Tyr Thompson 1g-1a-2pts, Brayden Labant 0g-2a-2pts, Easton Haygarth 1g-0a-1pts, Spencer Bast 1g-0a-1pts, Jude Butler 1g-0a-1pts.

Spruce Grove – Chris Van Os-Shaw 3g-3a-6pts, Josh Harris 3g-1a-4pts, Nick Leyer 1g-3a-4pts, Logan Ganie 2g-1a-3pts, Parker Saretsky 0g-3a-3pts, Martin Rudolf 0g-3a-3pts.

Whitecourt – Xavier Potvin 1-3-1 2.20gaa .926svg. Tye Morin 0-1-0 2.05gaa .936svg

Spruce Grove – Nolan Kent 3-1-0 1.24gaa .950svg 1 SO. Hayden Missler 2-0-0 0.50gaa .978svg 1 SO