An anxious stretch of waiting is over for the Prince Albert Mintos.
After the Saskatoon Blazers defeated the Regina Pat Canadians on Thursday night, it set up a first round playoff matchup between Prince Albert and the Warman Wildcats. The Blazers secured second place in the standings with the win, meaning the Wildcats finished as the third seed, matching up with the sixth seeded Mintos.
“We knew whoever we were going to face would be a challenge,” Mintos head coach Tim Leonard said. “I think we’ve played Warman pretty tough this year. They’re a good club, they’re well coached, but we’ve had time to prepare.”
The Mintos ended their regular season with a 4-1 loss to the Saskatoon Contacts on Feb. 21. With game one of their first round series not getting underway until March 11, that’s nearly three weeks without playing an actual game. The Wildcats still have one more game this weekend to wrap up their regular season ahead of the playoffs. While the extended break can prove to be disadvantageous with the possibility of players being rusty on the ice, Leonard hopes the extra time off will pay dividends.
“I’m hoping it’s an advantage, but you won’t know until the puck drops for the first time,” he laughed. “The guys have been lights out in our practices this week, and it’s fun to sit back and watch them and see how much they’re improving. They’re excited and ready to get at it.
“We have seven or eight skates left before we face (Warman) in a game situation, so we’ll try to get as much structure in place as we can to slow them down. Hopefully we’ll give them a good series.”
Prince Albert will be looking to flip the switch when it comes to battling the Wildcats. While their success against Warman was lacking in the regular season, the playoffs are a whole new animal. Leonard believes they’ve had good games against Warman this season, but explained what it’s going to take in order for the Mintos to come away with a series win.
“I think it’s going to come down to our structure,” he said. “We’re going to have to slow (Warman) down, they’re highly explosive in the neutral zone. They attack with good numbers, and we have to make sure we have good numbers above the puck. From there, we just need to respond and take advantage of our opportunities and make the best of it.”
Mintos will be shorthanded for game one with absence of Cossette
If the Mintos want to come away with a road win in game one, they’ll have to do it without the league’s leading scorer Jacob Cossette. The forward, who had 75 points in the regular season, was handed a game misconduct and a one game suspension for a cross check during their game against the Contacts.
“It’s going to hurt, there’s no doubt about it,” Leonard said of Cossette’s absence. “You take any team’s top guy out of their lineup and it shakes some things up. There are some guys that are going to get the chance to step up and get more minutes, and we just have a next man up attitude.”
Even with the absence of their leading scorer, the Mintos will still be hungry for a win in game one, even if it means beating a Warman team that has only lost four times on home ice. Leonard says there’s a sort of desire to take game one, and hold a valuable series lead when they return to home ice.
“I think any time you can go into another team’s rink to start a series off and beat them helps to shift the pressure in a hurry. We know we have to win one on the road, so let’s go there and try to win that first one.”
Game one kicks off on Friday, March 11 in Warman. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. The two teams will head to the Art Hauser Centre on Sunday, March 13 for game two. Puck drop for that game is at 7 p.m.
2021-22 head to head
The Wildcats were the team that gave the Mintos the most trouble during the regular season. Prince Albert put together just a 1-3-0-0 record against Warman, with a -6 goal differential. That’s their worst record against any opponent, and second worst goal differential.
The Mintos won the first meeting of the season between the two teams back on Sep. 29 at the Art Hauser Centre by a 5-3 final. Since then, the Wildcats have won three in a row, by 4-0, 3-2, and 5-2 finals.
No Mac’s for the Mintos
Mac’s tournament organizers announced a reboot of the tournament in Calgary. Twenty-four teams will be attending the tournament, which will run from April 6-10. One of the teams that opted to stay out of it was the Mintos.
“The board and our coaching staff talked about it,” Leonard said. “We all felt the same, where we think the tournament has its own special place at Christmas. I think with it being in April now, we’re so focused on our own playoffs, and it’s probably time to give these kids a rest when they’re done.
“That was our decision, and whether it’s right or wrong, that’s the way we’re going. If we can make it back there during Christmas next year, then by all means we’ll go.”