Mintos sweep Contacts; advance to semifinals

Prince Albert Mintos captain Kyrell Sopotyk (12) celebrates his first-period goal with his teammates Josh Pillar (10), Austin Lamotte (19) and his defencemen against the Saskatoon Contacts during the first period of the teams' SMAAAHL playoff game from P.A. on Feb. 28, 2018. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Prince Albert Mintos rode a seven-point night from their top line and a 27-save performance from goalie Carter Woodside to beat the Saskatoon Contacts 5-1 and sweep their quarter-final playoff series three games to none.

The Mintos now move on to the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League semifinals, where they’ll face either the Regina Pat Canadians or the Yorkton Rawtec Maulers.

Wednesday night’s game started with the Mintos and the Contacts both using their speed and their transition play to try to create offensive chances. The Mintos kept pressing for a scoring chance, but it was the Contacts who looked to have the puck possession edge through the first 13 or so minutes of play.

But Mintos captain Kyrell Sopotyk grabbed the early momentum for P.A. with his 14:38 score.

As the puck made its way through the neutral zone, Sopotyk chipped it past a Contacts defenceman and then out-skated him to create a short breakaway for himself down the wing into Saskatoon’s zone.

As he skated up on goalie Rayce Ramsay’s right side, he put a quick move on the goalie to make him over-commit and went with a backhand shot for the score.

Sopotyk’s linemate Josh Pillar netted a goal just over four minutes later to make the score 2-0 for the Mintos after 20 minutes.

Prince Albert Mintos forward Kishaun Gervais (16) looks for a pass as he carries the puck up ice against the Saskatoon Contacts during the first period of the teams’ SMAAAHL playoff game from P.A. on Feb. 28, 2018. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

P.A. coach Bryan Swystun compared the first period to portions of game 2 in the series in Saskatoon – the Mintos faced some adversity and were forced to remain disciplined and focused on the task at hand, despite the Contacts’ physical, rough play.

“We didn’t have a great first period (tonight). We came in the room and we said exactly that: ‘Five-on-five, blow the circles in their end; they can’t play with us.’ So we did that and kind of took over the game, which is what we wanted.”

Sopotyk went on to score another goal in the second period, while Pillar assisted on it. Their line mate, Austin Lamotte also notched his second assist – and second point – of the game.

Prior to Sopotyk’s goal, forward Hunter Schnell helped tighten the Mintos’ hold on their lead, netting his first goal of the playoffs at 7:55 of the period. It was a special one for him – he scored it on his 18th birthday. “It was definitely fun to get that one,” he said with a big smile.

Schnell’s goal seemed to kill the momentum and energy that the Contacts were riding to start the second period. He agreed with Swystun that the second period was an improvement over the first.

He said the series win, plus the goal on his birthday made it a special day for him. “It felt nice to get rid of those guys and move on to the next round.”

The P.A. coach said Schnell is an example of how the Mintos’ depth and grinding players succeed in helping to carry the team in ways that don’t necessarily show up on score sheets.

“He’s a kid that we’ve come to rely on for doing the little things right – defensively, getting the puck in deep when he has a chance. And it was nice to see him get rewarded tonight for a goal, because he’s been playing really well.”

Fellow forward Parker Fofonoff rounded out the Mintos’ goals in the third period, scoring on the power play to put P.A. up 5-0 at 8:56.

Contacts forward Jarrett Penner managed to get his team on the board three minutes later. It was the lone shot that got past P.A. goalie Carter Woodside, who started his first playoff game this year.

Prince Albert Mintos goalie Carter Woodside (1) readies himself for a save on a shot from Saskatoon Contacts defenceman Eli Lieffers (27) during the second period of the teams’ SMAAAHL playoff game from P.A. on Feb. 28, 2018. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

“I think we’re riding pretty high right now,” he said.

Looking ahead to the semifinals, he stressed that it’s going to be “a new series, new day.” Having the offensive prowess of their top skaters – like Sopotyk, Pillar and Lamotte – along with the “crash and bang” type play of the team’s grinders – like Schnell and Jaxon Tait – gives the Mintos a strong dual threat for the next round of playoffs, he said.

P.A. now awaits the winner of the Regina-Yorkton series. The Pat Canadians lead the series two gams to one after beating the Maulers 6-0 Wednesday night in Regina. Yorkton’s win came via a power play goal in overtime in the Maulers’ home rink on Monday.

“We know the next round’s going to be tough,” Swystun said. “We know that we’re probably going to be playing Regina … but either way – either team – if Yorkton wins, they’re going to be coming in on a high, playing very well. But we know what to expect from Regina – the mental part and the physical against them is going to be very important.

“So we look forward to the challenge. That’s what we’ve been trying to strive for all year, is to be the top team, play the top teams and to play well. So we’ll get our chance.”

The Maulers and the Pat Canadians play game 4 of their series Friday night in Yorkton at 8:15 p.m. If necessary, game 5 goes on Sunday, March 4 at 1:30 p.m. in Regina.

Watch the Daily Herald for updates on the Mintos’ round 2 playoff schedule and a preview of that round when they find out who their opponent will be.

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