Friday, April 6, 2012
After having a decisive advantage in playoff experience against the Regina Pats, the Moose Jaw Warriors have less playoff experience than the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Tigers have 386 games of playoff experience to the Warriors 296.
The Tigers' playoff lead is defenceman Matthew Konan who has 45 playoff games under his belt, James Henry leads the Warriors with 50.
I tend to think this matters less as the playoffs progress as everybody has had a taste by time the rounds progress.
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One thing that jumps out at you about the Tigers is how many of their players have never played anywhere else. Konan is in his fifth straight playoff campaign with the Tigers. Goalie Tyler Bunz has been a Tiger for four years and Cole Grbavac, Scott McKay, Emerson Etem, Dylan Bredo and Kale Kessy are in their third straight playoffs together. Only Kessy — briefly a Kamloops Blazer — has played for another team. There aren't many teams in the WHL who hang on to that many players for their entire careers.
The likes of defenceman James Bettauer and Alex Therieau and former Kootenay Ice grinder Brendan Hurley came over in trades, but they're the exception.
Only the leadership group of Kendall McFaull, Dylan McIlrath and Quinton Howden were playing in the playoffs for the Warriors three years ago.
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While special teams are always crucial in the playoffs, one interesting wrinkle in this series is Emerson Etem's short-handed abilities. Etem had 10 short-handed goals in the regular season. Yes 10. He has already added another one in the post-season.
The Warriors had four short-handed goals as a team during the regular season.
Of course, the Warriors use five forwards on their top power play unit. I don't expect them to change that. They want to focus on scoring and their power play has been very good so far in the post-season.
Cam Braes has a lot of experience playing the point on the power play and that unit has been together for a couple of months and should be aware of their defensive responsibilities.
That being said they did give up a short-handed goal against the Pats and Howden's speed helped make sure there weren't more. As fast as Howden is, I don't think anyone in the league is going to catch Etem if he has a step on them.
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Here's some highlights and quotes from Games 3 and 4 of the Medicine Hat-Saskatoon series courtesy of Shaw television:
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The Tigers will use Bettauer and Konan as their top defence pair. The steady Theriau will pair with undersized Finn Patrik Parkkonen as more of a puck-moving pair and Tyler Lewington and Dylan Busenius are the five-six pair.
Much has been made of the abilities of Etem, Hunter Shinkaruk and their centre Dylan Bredo, but the second line may be more significant during the series.
The Tigers have been shuffling their lines a little due to injuries — they did split up Shinkaruk and Etem during the season — but expect Grbavac, Curtis Valk and Boston Leier to be that second line. Grbavac and Valk are a vital source of secondary scoring for the Tigers.
Young Chad Labelle — who scored his first WHL goal against the Warriors in his third WHL game — has been a regular fixture on the third line.
Defenceman Spenser Jensen has been filling in on a fourth line energy role.
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The Warriors lines seem to be consistent with what they did against the Pats, but that in itself was pretty inconsistent.
While Eric Arnold was up with Howden and Henry often, young Brayden Point jumped onto that line while Arnold dropped down to the third line with Cody Beach and Kenton Miller. The usual member of that line, Tanner Eberle, didn't see a lot of ice time in the third period or overtime in the games in Regina. Andrew Johnson got spotted in on a few different lines when head coach Mike Stothers shortened the bench.
I would expect Travis Brown, provided he's fully healthy, but he looks ready to go, will also get rotated in with one of the top four defencemen (McFaull, McIlrath, Dallas Ehrhardt and Joel Edmundson) when/if Stothers starts to shorten his bench.
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The Tigers power play has been very effective. Bettauer and Konan man the points with Etem, Shinkaruk and Valk. Etem will line up on the half wall to the right side of the point (similar to where Henry finds a lot of room for the Warriors). Bettauer will set up on the left at the top of the circle and look for chances to shoot. Bettauer has 16 goals since coming to Medicine Hat (he had 21 total, the other five coming with PA) and 12 of those have come on the power play.
Valk will provide a net-front presence, while Shinkaruk will look for open spaces to try to find space to shoot.
They ride that unit a lot. The second unit hasn't been very consistent, though Grbavac will be out to cause problems in front of the net. If they use a second pair of defenceman for the second unit it's Busenius and Parkkonen.
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The younger brother of Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Ryan Stanton, Ty Stanton, has been called up to the Tigers. The younger Stanton is unlikely to feature in the series. The 16-year-old spent the season with St. Albert of the Albert Midget AAA Hockey League.