After a five-year hiatus, the CJHL brought back the ANAVET Cup format back into existence this season. And the first series back is a dandy, as the SJHL Canalta Cup champion Nipawin Hawks take on the MJHL Turnbull Cup champion Steinbach Pistons beginning on Friday at the TG Smith Centre.
To recap the Pistons postseason run thus far, they swept past the Swan Valley Stampeders in the first round, with Mark Taraschuk scoring the series-winning goal in double overtime in a thrilling Game 4 win. Then they faced a stiff test with the Winnipeg Blues in the semi-finals. It was 2-2 after four games, but the Pistons but the Blues away with a 3-0 win in Game 5 and a 3-2 Game 6 victory in Winnipeg to advance to the final.
That brought them to the finals versus Virden, where they looked to win the Turnbull Cup after being in the finals for the 3rd time in 4 years. They fell behind 2-0 in the first two games, but they turned their fortunes around by winning the next 4 games. Mid-season acquisitions Riese Gaber and Brendan Martin scored both goals in the first period in Game 6, and Matthew Thiessen shut the door the rest of the way as the Pistons raised the Turnbull Cup in Virden with a 2-1 victory.
Drew Worrad won the MJHL Playoff MVP award with 18 points in 16 games this postseason, and Thiessen took home the Top Playoff Goaltender award as well. Bradley Schoonbaert was right behind Worrad in scoring with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists), and Taraschuk was the top scoring defenceman in the playoffs with 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists).
What makes the Pistons so dangerous is that they have four lines and three defenceman pairs that can score at any given point, and play with a strong commitment to Head Coach Paul Dyck’s defensive game plan. They allowed only 2 goals against in the final 3 games of the series against Virden after allowing 9 goals in the first 3 games.
Steinbach will face the SJHL’s number one team in the regular season, and the Canalta Cup champion Nipawin Hawks. The Hawks defeated the Estevan Bruins 2-1 in Game 7 of the SJHL Finals on Tuesday for their first league title in 28 years. It will be a quick turnaround for them as they will be travelled through the night to get to Steinbach this morning. There are a couple MJHL connections with this club. Defenceman Thomas Lenchyshyn (1997) is the older brother of Pistons defenceman Jack Lenchyshyn. Thomas has also played for 5 MJHL teams (Selkirk, Steinbach, OCN, Dauphin, Portage) before spending the past season and a half with the Hawks. And Wayde Johannesson spent 2 ½ seasons with the Wayway Wolverines, and was their captain for this season before being traded to Nipawin at the trade deadline.
The Hawks went through a stretch from November 10 – February 17 (30 games) where they recorded a point. To compare, the Pistons recorded a point in their final 19 games of the season. Nipawin is led by Brandan Arnold, who scored 21 points in 16 playoff games, and 60 points (31 goals, 29 assists) in 43 regular season games. They have a stellar blue line that includes Josh McDougall, who was the SJHL Defenceman of the Year by recording 74 points (17 goals, 57 assists) in 55 regular season games. McDougall recorded 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 16 games this postseason, including the series-winning goal in the third period on a 5-on-3 power play.
Hawks goalie Declan Hobbs was named the SJHL Goalie of the Year, and has had a stout postseason. Hobbs sported a 2.10 GAA with a .929 SV% and 1 shutout in the SJHL Playoffs. Nipawin was the best defensive team in the SJHL, and Hobbs was a big reason for that success in the regular season and in the playoffs as well.
It’s the best offensive team in the MJHL, against the top defensive team in the SJHL in a best-of-7. One team goes to Chilliwack for the RBC Cup, and the other’s season ends. The 2018 ANAVET Cup kicks off on Friday in Steinbach, with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 pm.
*NOTE* – Tickets will go on sale Thursday morning at 8:00 am on our website under our ‘Fan Zone’ page.
FULL SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1 – Hawks @ Pistons – Friday, April 27th – 7:30 pm
Game 2 – Hawks @ Pistons – Saturday, April 28th – 7:30 pm
Game 3 – Pistons @ Hawks – Tuesday, May 1st – 7:30 pm (local time), 8:30 CDT
Game 4 – Pistons @ Hawks – Wednesday, May 2nd – 7:30 pm (local time), 8:30 CDT
Game 5 – Pistons @ Hawks – Friday, May 4th – 7:30 pm (local time), 8:30 CDT **
Game 6 – Hawks @ Pistons – Monday, May 7th – 7:30 pm **
Game 7 – Hawks @ Pistons – Tuesday, May 8th – 7:30 pm **
** If Necessary
SPECIAL TEAMS (through league playoffs)
Pistons PP 18.9 % (5th MJHL), PK 89.2% (1st MJHL)
Hawks PP 20.7% (4th SJHL), PK 80% (4th SJHL)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pistons: Daniel McKitrick
If one player on the Pistons know the SJHL champions, it’s McKitrick. He spent a season and a half in the SJHL with the Humboldt Broncos, and is primed to have a big series. McKitrick scored 8 points in 15 games in the playoffs, and had one of the biggest goals of the Turnbull Cup series by scoring the game-winner in Game 3 to lift the Pistons back into the series.
Hawks: Brandan Arnold
The Hawks’ top scorer can score in many ways, he is a gritty 5-on-5 player and has scored half of his 10 goals on the power play during the SJHL playoffs. His brother Kenzie also plays for Nipawin, and is a great defensive player for the Hawks. But older brother Brandon will be the player that the Pistons need to contain during this series as they did with Rylee Zimmer during the last series.
LEADING PLAYOFF SCORERS
Pistons: Drew Worrad – 18 PTS (6 G, 12 A)
Bradley Schoonbaert – 17 PTS (6 G, 11 A)
Mark Taraschuk – 16 PTS (5 G, 11 A)
Hawks: Brandon Arnold – 21 PTS (10 G, 11 A)
Josh McDougall – 20 PTS (6 G, 14 A)
Grant Baetsen – 15 PTS (2 G, 13 A)
Pistons: Matthew Thiessen (14 GP, 1.60 GAA, .944 SV%, 4 SO)
Hawks: Declan Hobbs (16 GP, 2.10 GAA, .929 SV%, 1 SO)