It’s time for the semi-final round of the MJHL playoffs, as the Steinbach Pistons get set to host the Winnipeg Blues in Game 1 on Friday.
The Pistons are coming off of a series sweep of the Swan Valley Stampeders in the first round, and have been practicing and resting for the past week waiting for their next opponent. It was an uneventful first three games of round 1 against the Swan Valley Stampeders, with Steinbach winning Games 1-3 by a combined score of 15-1.
But Game 4 trounced them all, and might have actually been the most entertaining game of the Pistons’ season so far. After allowing 4 goals in the second period and trailing 5-3 entering the third period, Jack Johnson tied it late with 2:11 left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Matt Radomsky came up big in the first overtime session, stoning grade A scoring chances for the Stampeders. And Mark Taraschuk sealed the deal by busting in on a breakaway and roofing it past the Swan goalie for a 6-5 double overtime victory.
No one on the Pistons is hotter than Taraschuk, who had 7 points combined in games 3 and 4 to be the leading scorer on the team during the playoffs. Tanner Mole and Austin Heidemann also had a great first playoff series against Swan, as they both scored 3 goals to lead the team. Matthew Thiessen was stellar in his two playoff outings, recording 2 shutouts in the process.
They will face a Blues team that were underdogs in their first-round series against the Portage Terriers, but they pulled out that series in six games to knock out the three-time defending MJHL champions. The Blues were a streaky team in the regular season, but began to play consistent hockey down the stretch with some new additions.
The Blues are led by MJHL leading scorer and MVP Dexter Kuczek, who barely knocked off the Pistons’ Bradley Schoonbaert for the scoring title. He sits third amongst all scorers in the postseason with 9 points, but he is sandwiched between teammates Brady Castellano (second with 10 points) and Devon Skoleski (fourth with 8 points). Castellano was acquired before the trade deadline from the Selkirk Steelers, and Skoleski was returned to the Blues from the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. Skoleski was a AP for the Blues when they last faced the Pistons in the playoffs back in 2015. These two have provided a secondary scoring punch behind Kuczek in this year’s playoffs.
Steinbach went 5-0-1 against Winnipeg this season, with the Blues defeating the Pistons in a nine-round shootout in their last matchup back on February 21st at the BellMTS Iceplex. The Blues boast the second best powerplay in the playoffs, while the Pistons killed off all the penalties they faced against Swan. The Pistons are favoured in the series, but they face a tough test in the Blues in order to reach their 3rd MJHL final in 4 years.
FULL SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1 – Blues @ Pistons – Friday, March 23 – 7:30 pm
Game 2 – Pistons @ Blues – Sunday, March 25 – 6:30 pm
Game 3 – Blues @ Pistons – Tuesday, March 27 – 7:30 pm
Game 4 – Pistons @ Blues – Thursday, March 29 – 7:00 pm **
Game 5 – Blues @ Pistons – Saturday, March 31 – 7:30 pm **
Game 6 – Pistons @ Blues – Sunday, April 1 – 6:30 pm **
Game 7 – Blues @ Pistons – Tuesday, April 3 – 7:30 pm **
** If necessary
SPECIAL TEAMS (in first round)
Pistons PP 14.3% (6th), PK 100% (1st)
Blues PP 24.3 % (2nd), PK 80% (5th)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pistons: Bradley Schoonbaert
Schoonbaert was successful against the Blues during the regular season, totaling 11 points in 6 games against Winnipeg. He was very quiet against Swan, notching 2 goals and 3 assists. With the power play of the Pistons looking to break out in this series, Steinbach will look to turn to him, one of their quarterbacks on the PP, to supply some quality scoring chances.
Blues: Jeremy Link
If the Blues want to keep the league’s best offensive team from scoring a lot of goals, Link will have to come up big in this series. He had a great series against the Terriers in the first round, posting a .918 SV% with a 2.72 GAA. He stopped tons of grade A scoring chances when the Blues were down in the second period in Game 6 to keep his team in the game. Link will need to do that during the entire series, and he is capable of shutting a team down.
LEADING PLAYOFF SCORERS
Pistons: Mark Taraschuk – 8 PTS (2 G, 6 A)
Drew Worrad – 6 PTS (2 G, 4 A)
Bradley Schoonbaert – 5 PTS (2 G, 3 A)
Will Koop – 5 PTS (1 G, 4 A)
Blues: Brady Castellano – 10 PTS (4 G, 6 A)
Dexter Kuczek – 9 PTS (3 G, 6 A)
Devon Skoleski – 8 PTS (4 G, 4 A)
Pistons: Matthew Thiessen – (2 GP, 1.000 SV%, 2 SO)
Matt Radomsky – (2 GP, .908 SV%, 2.6 GAA)
Blues: Jeremy Link – (6 GP, .918 SV%, 2.72 GAA)