Hounds sweep Mintos for league title

Hounds defenceman Avery Winslow (2) was part of a defensive unit that shut down Prince Albert’s offensive systems in Game 3, according to P.A.’s head coach. -- Daily Herald File Photo

Notre Dame wins Sask. Midget AAA championship series 3-0

The Notre Dame Hounds are this year’s Midget AAA Hockey League champions, after they beat the Prince Albert Mintos 3-2 in Game 3 of their league final series Wednesday night in Wilcox.

The Hounds swept the best-of-five series three games to none.

“There’s no shame in losing to that team,” Mintos head coach Ken Morrison said of the Hounds. “I’m super proud of our guys. It would have been easy to sit where we were, and accept that we were beat. Our guys did the opposite.”

The Hounds jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period of the elimination game.

Josselin Dufey opened the scoring on an even-strength goal less than four minutes into the first period. Then forward Stanley Cooley scored a power play goal with 1:34 left in the frame to double his team’s lead.

“Obviously Notre Dame has a good power play, which they got some opportunities on to score against us. (It) changed the way the game went,” Mintos captain Kyrell Sopotyk said.

But the Mintos bounced back in the second period.

Defenceman Turner Rea cut the Hounds’ lead in half, by scoring a wrist shot goal at 2:20.

About eight minutes later, forward Brad Morrissey scored for the Hounds to restore the two-goal lead.

Still, the Mintos kept battling and were rewarded while on the penalty kill.

Luke Nkwama took a pass from Hunter Schnell, skated down the left side of the ice and beat Hounds goalie Riley Kohonick to make the score 3-2.

But Morrissey’s goal proved to be the winner: The Mintos and Hounds skated to a scoreless draw in the third period.

Sopotyk described the urgency his team was playing with in the game.

“We were trying to get a physical presence, too, as they hit us pretty good in the first two games. So we tried to give it back to them; hitting and working the puck in their zone, and having a big physical presence in Game 3.”

He also underscored the Hounds’ defence in the third period.

“It was a close game; they knew we had to score a goal to tie the game, so they were playing really good defensively.

“They were trying to get the pucks out, and we were just battling offensively to just get a soring chance to get one home and tie the game.”

Once the game ended and the series loss hit, it was a tough moment for the team, Sopotyk said. “It was pretty emotional in the room … even the coaching staff said they’ve never seen an emotional group like that after the game. So to know that guys cared that much after the season and wanted to win, it’s good to see in the dressing room.”

Morrison talked about a similar point, describing how this year’s Mintos team was unique, because each player played for the other, and the team seemed to gel at the right time during the season.

“That was a big part of our success this year: Guys felt they’re part of a really good group, and that motivated them to play for each other.” He and Sopotyk talked about a steady improvement throughout the year for the Mintos, punctuated by the team’s playoff run.

A particular momentum-builder was the Mintos’ three-game sweep of the Regina Pat Canadians in the league’s semifinals this year, they both said.

“That game in Regina,” Sopotyk referenced; it was Game 1 in the series, which the Mintos won 4-3 after coming back from a 3-0 deficit.

After that game, he said, “everyone wanted it that much more, and just all playoffs everyone just bonded together and knew that we wanted to make it to the championship and try to win.”

The head coach also commended the Hounds on their series win and what lays ahead for them as they move on to western regionals as the province’s representative. “I’d be surprised if they don’t win the Telus Cup this year.”

To reach the national Telus Cup in Sudbury, ON., Notre Dame first must win the West Regional tournament, to which it now advances. The four-team tournament features the Hounds, the Kenora Thistles, the Winnipeg Wild and the Thunder Bay Knights.

The tournament begins on Thursday, April 5 in Thunder Bay, ON. The championship game is set for April 8.