The Northeast BC & Yukon Trackers have advanced to the second round of the Northern Alberta Midget AA Hockey League playoffs after sweeping the Fort McMurray Barons in back-to-back home games.
On Friday night the Trackers hosted the Barons at the Dawson Creek Memorial Arena in the first game of the best-of-three quarterfinals series, and Game 1 was a lot closer than the Trackers expected.
“We beat them 9-1 in the last two games [we played] when we went up to Fort Mac after Christmas, but they changed their whole game and I was really surprised how they came out,” said Trackers’ head coach Brennen Giroux on Saturday. “I’m glad they came out like that. It was good playoff hockey.”
Right out of the gate play was close between the two teams in the North Black division, but it was the Trackers who led after 40 minutes. Thomas Webster opened scoring in Game 1 less than eight minutes into the first with assists to Tristan Henrickson and Wyatt Gale. The Barons answered six minutes later to tie the game 1-1 heading into the second intermission.
The Trackers scored twice in the second from Mark Readman and Kohlman Brinsky (unassisted). Fort McMurray would answer with one in the second and another two in the third to tie the game at 4 after Ricky Bateman’s unassisted goal less than three minutes into the third.
With a tie game in the middle of the third on home ice, the Trackers felt some frustration in Fort McMurray’s end as the Baron’s goaltender Robert Gillard played a top-notch game between the pipes, stopping 45 of 50 shots.
It was Readman who got the go-ahead goal on Gillard with just under five minutes remaining in the game to win Game 1 of the series 5-4 and take Game 2 to Fort St. John.
“Their goalie really stood on his head, and Kudos to him,” Giroux said. “Kudos to the whole Fort Mac team.”
Game 2 was held at the North Peace Arena in Fort St. John on Saturday afternoon, and again the Trackers got the first goal of the game, which Giroux said is important to set the energy for the rest of the game.
“It’s huge,” he said. “You always want to get that first goal to get the momentum on your side. It’s huge to establish that momentum right away.”
This time it was Kody McManus who opened scoring for the Trackers at 17:25 of the first, and again the Barons would answer to tie up the period after Fort McMurray’s Josh White broke away with the puck to score on goalie Michael Chute.
White was a force for the Barons in Game 2, with a number of breakaways and good scoring chances shut down by Chute.
Trackers forward Brandon Howard made some huge hits in the first two periods to get the energy going at North Peace Arena while Chute kept the Barons off the scoreboard for the rest of the game.
“Chutey’s going to be the goalie to go,” Giroux said. “I think he just needs the confidence. He’s always been playing behind Daimon [Derouin] as the shadow and it’s really good he’s coming out and providing good games and stopping pucks.”
“It’s really good for him and even last year he was our go-to goalie, I just don’t think he believes that in himself right now, so I’m hoping he brings out that confidence.”
Chute stopped 34 of 35 shots on Saturday.
Gale got a hat trick in Game 2 with a goal in the second and two more in the third, while Trevor Whynot got the third period’s first goal for the Trackers after positioning himself for the perfect midair tip-in from McManus’ shot from the point.
“That line [of Gale/Webster/Bateman) has been really going since the Camrose series, and we’re really relying on that line and Whynot’s line to provide some good scoring touches for us,” Giroux said. “Those are the type of guys that’ll be going every second shift if it gets tight, so I’m really happy that they got the goal production in this series.”
Winning the game 5-1, the Trackers swept the Barons in two games to advance to the second round where they will be taking on the Grande Prairie Sherpa Safety Storm.
“We’re going to be going into Grande Prairie and they’re hot,” Giroux said. “They started off the season 7-0 and they’re a sleeping dragon. The last game we played them, they beat us 4-0 or 4-1, so we need to be prepared to work next week.”
“It’s going to be a really good series and I hope our players come out strong. Grande Prairie’s a good team and we have to be prepared.”
Giroux went on to say that the team is feeling really positive after their series sweep over Fort McMurray and although the schedule hasn’t been released yet, the Trackers will likely be playing the Storm next weekend in Grande Prairie.