After one of their most successful regular seasons in recent memory, the Winkler Flyers will rekindle an old rivalry when they host the OCN Blizzard in Game One of their MJHL Quarter-Final series on Thursday, March 10th.
The Winkler Flyers (42-13-5) and OCN Blizzard (27-30-3) met in back to back Manitoba Junior Hockey League finals in 2001 and 2002 and the stories of those two playoff runs can still be heard today. It has been 14 years since the Blizzard defeated the Flyers to claim their fourth straight MJHL title, and new playoff memories are sure to be made when the two clubs kick off their series on Thursday night.
The Flyers had the upper hand on the Blizzard during this year’s six game season series, taking four of the six games. Winkler won all three games at home by a combined score of 13-2. However, the Blizzard took two of the three games up north by a combined total of 13-9. In fact, over the past six seasons, both teams have been able to protect their home ice rather well with Winkler going 9-3-2 at home against the Blizzard and just 5-7-3 on the road during that stretch.
Overall this season the Flyers were 22-5-3 at home and 20-8-2 on the road, including a 10-0-1 record in their last 11 games away from the Winkler Rec Complex. While OCN was an impressive 19-11-0 at home this season, they managed only eight wins in their 30 games played away from the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre.
Winkler’s improvement over last season can be attributed to a number of factors, most notably special teams and the overall depth of the club. Winkler’s power-play, which ranked near the bottom of the league a season ago, has been one of the strengths this year, ranked second in the league overall (26.88%) and a league best (32.33%) at home. The penalty-kill, which was just above league average last season, is also ranked second best this year (85.86). This may bode well for the Flyers as OCN was the league’s most penalized club in 2015-2016, giving their opponents a league high 298 power-play opportunities. The Blizzard power-play ranks 10th (16.13%), while their penalty-kill sits in 5th (81.88%).
Winkler has three of the top six goal scorers in the MJHL on their roster with Tristan Keck, Cam Whyte and Scott Gall all surpassing the 30 goal mark. Apart from Winkler, no other team in the league has more than one player over the 30 goal plateau. All but five members of the Orange and Black reached the 20 point total this season, while seven of them scored 15 goals or more.
The Flyers increased offensive attack, combined with a much improved defensive approach, helped the club achieve a +107 goal differential this season. On the other side, the Blizzard were a -29 in that category. Winkler’s solid goaltending tandem of Nathan Warren and Connor Slipp will be an asset as well, with both players sitting near the top of the league in GAA and Save Percentage.
One of the players that the Flyers will need to key on is OCN Captain Logan Harland, who finished second in the MJHL points race with 95 points. He accounted for 24% of his team’s goal output and 21% of their overall points. He recorded at least a point in 49 of his 60 games played and led the Blizzard with 28 multi point games. OCN defenseman Brady Keeper finished tied with Flyers defenseman Zak Hicks for the most points among all MJHL blueliners (44 points).
Despite the third place Flyers having a 32 point advantage on the sixth place OCN Blizzard, this matchup should prove to be a very tight and entertaining series. Both teams are coming into the playoffs playing some of their best hockey of the season. Winkler went 15-3-3 in their last 21 games, while the Blizzard won 13 of their last 21 games.
Home ice advantage, and special teams will be a major factor in this series as Winkler looks to advance past the quarter-final round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.
You can listen to each and every playoff game on Country 88.9FM and online at www.pembinavalleyonline.com with the pregame show getting underway five minutes prior to game time.
Below is the full schedule for this best of seven series
Game One: Thursday, March 10th @ Winkler, 7:30pm
Game Two: Friday, March 11th @ Winkler, 7:30pm
Game Three: Monday, March 14th @ OCN, 7:00pm
Game Four: Tuesday, March 15th @ OCN, 7:00pm
Game Five: Friday, March 18th @ Winkler, 7:30pm (if necessary)
Game Six: Monday, March 21st @ OCN, 7:00pm (if necessary)
Game Seven: Wednesday, March 23rd @ Winkler, 7:30pm (if necessary)
Advance tickets are available at the Winkler Coop Gas Bar or at the door prior to the game. Individual game tickets are $11 for Adults and $8 for Students. Children 12 and under are free, however, they must be accompanied by an adult.
See you at the rink!