Playoff hockey is back in Portage la Prairie. After missing the postseason for the first time since 1986 last year, the Portage Terriers are back and looking to claim the Turnbull Cup once again.
The Terriers won the MJHL Championship in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Since then, they have had two seasons where the playoffs were cancelled due to COVID-19 and were just one point shy of making the playoffs in 2022.
Portage seems to be back to their winning ways now, as they ended the season with a 43-11-4 record, finishing first in the MJHL standings. While this position usually grants the top team an easier first-round matchup, that's not necessarily the case for the Terriers.
Portage will be facing off against the MJHL's newest team in the best-of-seven first-round series, the Niverville Nighthawks. The rookie franchise is the only team to make the playoffs with more losses than wins, however, they have played very well against the Dogs this year.
The Terriers' first home loss of the season came in their first meeting with the Nighthawks, where they were thumped 6-2. Portage bounced back in their second meeting with a 4-2 win and flipped the score from game one in the third meeting, picking up a 6-2 victory. The next two matchups were very close as Portage came away with a 5-4 win, and Niverville snatched the final contest of the year 3-2 in a shootout last week.
Braden Panzer 🚨— #theMJ (@mjhlhockey) March 16, 2023
What a move from Panzer who helped the @MJHLNighthawks to a shootout win over the Terriers.
These two teams will meet in the first round of the @McMunnandYates #TurnbullCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/itOoKVMvlT
The Dogs will have home-ice advantage, meaning they will open the series in Portage, and if it extends to a do-or-die Game 7, that will also go down at Stride Place. The extra home game is always a bonus but four of the five games in the season series were won by the road team. So, Portage knows they will have to bring their A-game in both buildings.
"We've had some success against them this year but it's the playoffs, and everyone's going to battle," says leading-scorer Ryan Botterill. "I think the boys are ready to go. It's going to be a good series."
A few Terriers were very effective against Niverville this season, as Kaden Kohle and Austin Peters both put up a point-per-game against the Nighthawks. Kian Calder and Ryan Botterill both surpassed that mark with six points apiece (5G, 1A for Botterill; 3G, 3A for Calder).
On the other end of the ice, forwards Brett Tataryn and Brenden Bottem each scored three goals and dished out three assists against Portage this season.
Regardless of what happens in this series and throughout the playoffs, the Portage Terriers will be playing in the Centennial Cup tournament in May as the host team. Despite the guaranteed spot, team captain Kian Calder says they want to earn the honour of playing at the national event.
"There's a lot of competitiveness in our group here in Portage. Same as Estevan last year (Calder played with the SJHL's Estevan Bruins last season, who also hosted the Centennial Cup), nobody wanted the back door entry. Nobody wanted to be in because we're hosting," Calder continues. "We've set goals throughout the year. Finishing first was our first goal, which we completed. Our next goal is winning the Turnbull Cup. Our goal after that is going to be winning the national tournament but we're taking it one step at a time."
As the Terriers and Nighthawks prepare for an opening round battle in the McMunn & Yates #TurnbullCupPlayoffs, our experts pick their series winners.— #theMJ (@mjhlhockey) March 22, 2023
🖥 Full Preview | https://t.co/F3ljECkeaK pic.twitter.com/uaUTUxF7QK
Calder notes the team is fired up for the playoffs.
"There's a lot of buzz in the locker room right now. The practices this week have been high tempo, high pace. We're doing a lot to prepare ourselves for Niverville, and there's a lot of excitement in that room."
Game 1 in this first-round series goes down tonight at Stride Place, with puck drop set for 7:30.
Tale of the Tape
Regular Season Record
Terriers: Ryan Botterill (45G, 28A, 73Pts)
Nighthawks: Josh Paulhus (31G, 30A, 61Pts)
Terriers: Bailey Monteith (2.64GAA, 0.902SV%)
Nighthawks: Chris Fines (3.41GAA, 0.901SV%)