A valiant effort by the Prince Albert Mintos came up just short Sunday.
In their third game in as many nights, the sixth-seeded Mintos went back-and-forth with the third-ranked Saskatoon Blazers at the Rod Hamm Memorial Arena in Saskatoon but ended up losing in an exciting 6-4 affair in the fifth and deciding game of their Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League quarter-final series.
“We couldn’t be more proud of how they played tonight,” said Mintos assistant coach Bryan Swystun, who took over behind the bench for the last four games of the series after a suspension to head coach Ken Morrison following game one last Sunday.
“I think a lesser team would have let Saturday’s game (which saw the Mintos drop a 3-0 decision at home to the Blazers) affect them, but we got together and chatted before we went on the bus today and they came out with an excellent effort.”
The Mintos held a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes of play, but the Blazers came back to life with three goals in the final frame to prevent the upset.
Sunday’s contest summed up what had been an wild series as each team found the back of the net on 21 occasions.
“We expected things to be tight checking and they certainly have a lot more offensive firepower than we do, but we ended up scoring a bunch of goals and there were games that they didn’t score as many,” Swystun says. “I think that shows the parity between the two teams and the fans certainly got their monies worth in this series.”
Prince Albert Raiders defensive prospect Nolan Allan led the way for the Blazers on Sunday with three goals and two assists, as he picked up his second five-point effort of the series
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a more talented player,” Blazers head coach Scott Scissons said of Allan, who leads the playoffs in scoring with 11 points.
“He just continues to set the bar higher for himself and it’s been impressive to watch. He’s been playing 35 to 40 minutes a night lately and he’s ready to go out there again the next day.”
Josh Nagy and Alec Saretzky had a goal and an assist each for the Blazers, who also got an offensive contribution from affiliated player Tyson Wouters and a 22-save performance from Matthew Pesenti.
“Prince Albert was a real handful and I think the realization set in for the guys heading into Saturday’s game at the Art Hauser Centre that our season could come to an end,” Scissons said.
“Our guys answered the challenge we presented to them and they really dug in there to come away with a pair of wins.”
Raiders prospect Cohner Saleski had a pair of goals to lead the way for the Mintos, while captain Alex Ozar had a goal and an assist to give him a team-best seven points in the series.
Gabe Klassen also scored for the visitors, while Spencer Welke stopped 32 shots in his third straight start.
Looking towards next season, the Mintos will see goaltender Carter Woodside and blueliner Jake Huska age out of the midget ranks, along with forwards Gavin Ingram and Andrew Schaab.
They could also lose Ozar and Marek Schneider from the back end, plus Klassen, Saleski, Chase Bertholet, Ashton Ferster and Dawson Springer up front as they have all signed contracts with Western Hockey League teams.
“Being in a stretch like this is huge for these guys, especially when you are a lower seed, as there’s no substitute for the experience that you get from playoff hockey,” Swystun said.
“It shows that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it and I’m sure this will help our returning guys grow as leaders as we welcome the new faces to our team.”
Meanwhile, the Blazers will now prepare to take on the second-seeded Tisdale Trojans in the semifinal round, which is expected to being Tuesday.
“(Trojans head coach) Darrell (Mann) likes to play at a quick pace and it’s a pretty similar approach to what Ken and Bryan have done with the Mintos,” Scissons said.
“They are a well-balanced team that presents a lot of problems. We’re hoping to have a couple of guys back in the lineup for the series, which will be a nice boost for us.”
The other best-of-five matchup will see the top-ranked Regina Pat Canadians go up against the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Hounds, who are the defending Telus Cup champions.