The Estevan Bruins traveled up to Melfort looking to win at least one game and steal home ice advantage in the Best-of-7 SJHL Quarterfinal series. And after a pair of 4-1 games, that’s exactly what happened as the series now becomes more of a Best-of-5 series with up to three more games left to be played at Affinity Place.
GAME 1 – Rancier Shines as Bruins Open With 4-1 Victory
The 2020 SJHL playoffs began across the league on Friday night and for the Estevan Bruins, it marked the start of a Best-of-7 rematch against the Melfort Mustangs who ended the Bruins’ season a year earlier with a (4-2) series victory in the SJHL semi-final.
However, there are very few faces remaining on each team from last year’s playoffs and for the Estevan Bruins, it was the first-year players taking the spotlight in the series opener.
The Mustangs would come flying out of the gates in front of their home crowd of 830 in attendance, putting the pressure on and heavily outshooting the Bruins in the first ten minutes. But Keenan Rancier, starting his first playoff game at the Junior A level, picked up where he left off after a stellar 19-year-old regular season and kept Melfort off the scoresheet in the early going.
In fact, it would be the Bruins opening the scoring at the 10:02 mark. Just seconds after an abbreviated powerplay, Eddie Gallagher would find Griffin Asham-Moroz open at the top of the circle and the Viterra Division’s rookie-of-the-year sniped a shot top corner past Melfort’s Shawn Parkinson to put the Bruins up 1-0. Cody Davis also assisted on the lone goal of the 1st period, with Melfort outshooting Estevan 18-5 in the 1st period.
Melfort would continue to pepper Rancier with shots during the 2nd period. But not only was Rancier sharp making saves, his defence kept the majority of the shots to low-percentage scoring locations. The Bruins would earn a pair of high-quality scoring chances from Gallagher and Jayden Davis, but the score would remain 1-0 after 40 minutes with Melfort outshooting Estevan 34-11.
The Bruins would extend their lead to 2-0 at the 7:04 mark of the 3rd period on the powerplay. Gallagher picked up the puck behind the net and found Kade McMillen at the blueline for a one-time blast. The puck would defect off of rookie forward Troy Hamilton and into the back of the net as the powerplay marker made it 2-0.
The Bruins would remain on the powerplay as Kyle Bosch stayed in the box to serve his high-sticking double-minor. But it would be the Mustangs getting back in the game while shorthanded, as Christian Albertson finally solved Rancier with a shot five-hole on a breakaway to cut the lead to 2-1 at the 7:55 mark of the 3rd period.
The Bruins held on to their one-goal lead until the 14:15 mark when Hamilton would get his second of the night. Rancier made a blocker save in the Estevan end that went straight to Asham-Moroz, who fed a breakaway pass to Hamilton. The rookie sped past the Melfort defender and snapped a perfect shot past Parkinson to make it 3-1 Bruins with less than six minutes to play.
Melfort attempted to get back in the game pulling their goalie for the extra attacker for the final two minutes. But again Rancier was there to thwart any comeback attempt and then with 17.7 seconds remaining, Cody Davis sealed the win with an empty-net marker to make the final 4-1. Brady Nicholas and Gallagher’s 3rd helper of the night assisted on Davis’ first of the postseason.
Keenan Rancier (44/45) was outstanding in his SJHL playoff debut. Last season, Rancier served as the backup netminder for the Prince George Spruce Kings (BCHL), winning the BCHL title, the Doyle Cup (AJHL-BCHL title), and as the runner-up to Brooks for the National Championship. But this is Rancier’s first postseason experience as a starter, and he stepped up to the plate in his playoff opener. Shawn Parkinson (15/18) was tagged with the loss for Melfort, but played well despite the low-workload. Parkinson came into the postseason with a shutout in each of his final three regular season starts.
There was not a lot of extra-curricular activity or rough play between the two teams in the playoff opener, but that is expected to change as the series goes along. The Bruins went (1/5) on the powerplay while Melfort was shutout (0/4), but they did score while shorthanded.
The Bruins take a (1-0) lead in the Best-of-7 series, with Game 2 scheduled for the next night in Melfort.
GAME 2 – Melfort Responds With 4-1 Win On Saturday Night
The script from Game 1 to Game 2 would play out much the same as the Melfort Mustangs heavily outshot the Bruins in the 1st period, only to see Estevan leading 1-0 after 20 minutes.
On the powerplay, a pretty passing play ended up on the stick of Eddie Gallagher who tucked home his 1st of the playoffs to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at the 17:05 mark. Jayden Davis and Tanner Manz assisted on the goal.
The Mustangs would get a goal back in the 2nd period as Tian Rask scored on the powerplay at the 6:39 mark to even the score at 1-1. That remained the score at the intermission, with Melfort outshooting Estevan 27-10.
In the 3rd period, Melfort would take their first lead of the series at the 7:11 mark as Christian Albertson scored his second of the series to make it 2-1. The Bruins would get a few chances to get back in the game as the period went on, but were unable to sustain a consistent attack in the offensive zone.
The Bruins would pull the goalie for the extra attacker in the final two minutes, but it would twice be unsuccessful as Gabe Odowichuk (18:58) and Kenzie Arnold (19:18) each scored into the empty net to make the final score 4-1.
Keenan Rancier (40/42) was outstanding in goal once again for the Bruins, and stopped a combined (84/87) shots in the first two games for a .966 SV%. Shawn Parkinson (14/15) would earn the win in net for Melfort.
Each team would score once on the powerplay in the game, Estevan (1/5) and Melfort (1/5).
The series now shifts to Affinity Place in Estevan for Game 3 on Tuesday, March 10th and Game 4 Wednesday, March 11th. Both games begin at 7:30pm with tickets available on Monday (10am – 6pm) and Tuesday (10am-2pm, Box Office opens at 6pm).