Playoff hockey is in the air as the 2020 MJHL Playoffs are set to get underway Friday evening.
All of the first-round matchups this year are intriguing to say the least, which will make for some exciting hockey on the road to the Turnbull Cup.
The Steinbach Pistons will meet the Winnipeg Blues in the playoffs for a third consecutive year, and it will be the second straight season that these two clubs will lock horns in the opening round. Here is a breakdown of both teams:
Steinbach Pistons – 42-10-8 = 92 points (1st)
Kyle Bettens: 49 GP – 18 G, 38 A = 56 P
Ty Naaykens: 58 GP – 23 G, 32 A = 55 P
Zach Purcell: 59 GP – 34 G, 18 A = 52 P
Matt Lenz: 38 GP – 29-4-4, 2.13 GAA, .922 SV%, 1 SO
Thomson Phinney: 7 GP – 4-1-2, 1.83 GAA, .929 SV%, 2 SO ^
^ With Steinbach
Winnipeg Blues – 24-29-7 = 55 points (8th)
Mikol Sartor: 60 GP – 35 G, 58 A = 93 P
Mitchell Joss: 57 GP – 30 G, 41 A = 71 P
Brayden Foreman: 50 GP – 17 G, 45 A = 62 P
Cooper Hatfield: 42 GP – 18-15-5, 3.35 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 SO
Will Gurski: 18 GP – 5-9-1, 4.74 GAA, .874 SV%
Season Series Summary: Pistons won five of six meetings.
First Meeting: October 15th – Pistons win 4-2 @ Rink Training Centre
The Pistons made their first ever visit to the Rink Training Centre in the middle of October. It was a slow start for Steinbach who were down 1-0 after two period to the Blues, but the offense came to life in the third period with four goals in the frame. Former Blues Codey Behun and Ty Naaykens would finish off their former squad late, with Behun getting the game-winner and Naaykens the insurance marker. (W) – Lenz, (L) – Giannuzzi
Second Meeting: December 10th – Pistons win 4-2 @ Rink Training Centre
Dante Giannuzzi, once a Blue just weeks prior, would get the start for Steinbach against his former club. He played well as the Pistons would get goals in four different varieties; shorthanded, penalty shot, even-strength, and an empty-net marker. Tanner Mole had two goals on the night while Zach Purcell and Bryce Young had the other tallies. (W) – Giannuzzi, (L) Hatfield
Third Meeting: December 21st – Blues win 4-1 @ TG Smith
It was the final game for the Pistons before the Christmas break, but the team decided to go on holidays a day early. Even though Steinbach outshot Winnipeg 38-20, the Blues were the better team throughout the game and beat the Pistons 4-1. Mikol Sartor led the way for the Blues with two goals and an assist as it was the first of three straight games for the Pistons against Winnipeg. (W) – Hatfield, (L) – Giannuzzi
Fourth Meeting: December 31st – Pistons win 3-0 @ TG Smith
In a New Year’s Eve matchup and the first game back after the holiday break, the Pistons played a more complete game as they blanked Winnipeg 3-0. Matt Lenz returned between the pipes for Steinbach after missing a month due to injury, and recorded his only shutout of the 2019-20 season in this game. Troy Beauchemin, Rylan Bettens, and Tanner Mole had the goals for the Pistons. (W) – Lenz, (L) – Hatfield
Fifth Meeting: Pistons win 4-3 in OT @ Rink Training Centre
This was the closest matchup between these two teams during their season series. Both teams exchanged a goal in each period, and it was off to overtime with the game tied at 3. Codey Behun would come up clutch for Steinbach, winning the game with his patented quick wrister to give Steinbach the extra point. (W) – Lenz, (L) – Gurski
Sixth Meeting: January 28th – Pistons win 8-2 @ TG Smith
Steinbach would send their fans home with a plate of free Smittys pancakes for the first time in 2019-20 with a convincing 8-2 win over the Blues on home ice. All eight markers were even-strength goals, one off of the Pistons franchise record for most 5-on-5 tallies in a game. Ty Naaykens had 2 goals and 3 assists, Kyle Bettens registered 2 goals and 2 assists, while Zach Purcell (2), Ryan Butler, and David Queree had the other twine ticklers. (W) – Lenz, (L) – Gurski
For the third time in the past four years the Pistons will be the #1 seed going into the MJHL postseason. Steinbach has had a balanced offensive attack all season even though they’re 6th in the MJHL with 219 goals this season, but they’ve once again established themselves as the best defensive club with a league-best 138 goals allowed.
The catalyst for the Pistons lately has been 19-year-old Zach Purcell. The Aurora, Colorado product finished the season on an absolute tear, putting up 22 goals over his last 19 games while stringing together at one point a franchise record-tying 15-game point streak over that span. He’s paired up on a line with Rookie of the Year Carter Loney and Ryan Butler, and that trio have driven the offence for Steinbach lately.
Kyle Bettens led the way for the Pistons in scoring with 56 points, edging out linemate Ty Naaykens during their last game against Selkirk. Steinbach also boast depth on their back end with reliable veteran defencemen to lean on in Declan Graham, Dylan Cassie, Christian Riemer, and Curtis Ireland.
The Pistons might have one of the top goalie tandems in the league with Mercyhurst commit and MJHL Goaltender of the Year Matt Lenz and Thomson Phinney, who’s played extremely well since being acquired by Steinbach at the trade deadline.
KEY FACTOR: Cash in on power plays
The Pistons power play started the season off slow, but they started to hit its stride in the month of February, clicking at a 28% rate over the month. The Blues had by far the league low in total penalty minutes in 2019-20 with 639 PIMs, so man advantage opportunities will come few and far between. When they get the chance to go on a power play, Steinbach will need to cash in against a Blues team that finished at 76.2% on the penalty kill, 10th in the MJHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Codey Behun
Behun was one of the top forwards for the Blues against the Pistons in last year’s first round series, but he came over to Steinbach in a blockbuster offseason trade. Behun scored a career-high 21 goals in the regular season, and found some chemistry centering a line with Rylan Bettens and Tanner Mole. He scored two game-winners against Winnipeg this season so if the games are close, look for him to rise to the top.
This is a much different looking Winnipeg Blues squad compared to the previous couple of postseasons. With a change of ownership and a new coaching staff, it was all about developing the young talent they had assembled.
The Blues literally came out of nowhere in the final month, coming back from a double-digit point deficit in the standings to overtake the Selkirk Steelers. Winnipeg secured the 8th seed on Saturday night when the Steelers lost in regulation. They’ve been one of the top MJHL teams in February, posting a 7-3-3 record in that month while posting big wins over Winkler, Swan Valley, and two huge wins over Selkirk to keep their season alive.
Winnipeg is led by 18-year-old Mikol Sartor, the MJHL’s leading scorer during the regular season with 93 points in 60 games played. Sartor is one of just six Blues to have MJHL playoff experience, and one of only two returnees from last year’s Winnipeg team that lost out to Steinbach in the first round. The other returning player is captain Brayden Foreman, who also had an excellent season with 62 points in 50 games played.
Another 18-year-old Mitchell Joss, Sartor’s linemate throughout the year, finished 4th in league scoring with 71 points in 57 games played. On defence the Blues are led by three-year MJHL d-man Carson Tiede with 6 goals and 27 points in 55 games. And in goal expect Winnipeg to lean heavily on rookie netminder Cooper Hatfield, who was a finalist for MJHL Goaltender of the Year and an All-Rookie Team member in 2019-20.
KEY FACTOR/PLAYER TO WATCH: Cooper Hatfield
The Blues need a big series from the Kenora, Ontario goalie, and he is definitely capable of putting up a brick wall. The 18-year-old is Winnipeg’s workhorse, playing in 42 games this season and a grand total of 2,362 minutes in the net (both 3rd amongst all qualified MJHL goalies). He’s had success against the Pistons in three starts, posting a 2.33 GAA and a .944 SV% in those games. For the Blues to have success against Steinbach in this series, Hatfield will have to have a say in these games.
FULL SERIES SCHEDULE
GAME #1: Friday, March 6th – Blues @ Pistons – 7:30 pm
GAME #2: Sunday, March 8th – Pistons @ Blues – 2:00 pm
GAME #3: Tuesday, March 10th – Blues @ Pistons – 7:30 pm
GAME #4: Wednesday, March 11th – Pistons @ Blues – 7:30 pm
GAME #5: Saturday, March 14th – Blues @ Pistons – 7:30 pm**
GAME #6: Sunday, March 15th – Pistons @ Blues – 2:00 pm**
GAME #7: Tuesday, March 17th – Blues @ Pistons – 7:30 pm**
** If Necessary
Tickets for the first round series will be available online tonight! Single game playoff tickets will be $15 for adults, $12 for students aged 7-18, and children 6 and under will get in free.