It's hockey night tonight in Portage la Prairie.
The Portage Terriers have had a week to prepare and are more than ready to get the second round of the MJHL Turnbull Cup Playoffs underway. The Dogs will square off with the Virden Oil Capitals in the best-of-seven series, who defeated the OCN Blizzard 4-2 in round one.
Terrier defenceman Brandon McCartney outlines what they'll have to watch out for against Virden.
"They play a really structured game. They all work together really well and have created chemistry with each other," McCartney continues. "If you look at the stats, they don't have anyone who's super high up in terms of points but they work well as a team and are coached well. For us, it's just going to be about sticking to the basics. Everything we did right in the first round, we want to carry over into the second round."
In the regular season series, the Terriers took care of business. The Dogs were victorious in all four matchups out-scoring the Oil Capitals by a combined score of 22-10.
Portage had five players put up over a point-per-game against Virden this year; Slade Stanick (5A), Austin Peters (1G, 4A, 5Pts), Brandon McCartney (1G, 5A, 6Pts), Daniel Siso (2G, 4A), and Ryan Botterill (4G, 2A, 6Pts).
Daniel Siso 🚨— #theMJ (@mjhlhockey) March 26, 2023
A clean exit from the @PortageTerriers sends Ryan Botterill up the ice with Siso who ripped home his first of the playoffs to help Portage take a 2-0 series lead. pic.twitter.com/zPqChyIDr0
On the other side of the ice, Josh Lehto has seen his fair share of success against the Terriers. The rookie started out his season in Portage but was traded after playing just one regular season game with the Dogs. Against his former team, Lehto has three goals and an assist this year. Throughout the entire season, he scored 40 points, tied for the second most on the Oil Capitals.
McCartney says they can't take Virden lightly as they were the lower seed against OCN and were able to pull off the upset. Against Niverville, the Terriers scored the first goal in only one of the five games, so they know what it's like to have to battle back.
"We had to face that adversity (in the first round) of being down early, coming back, and then making sure we could play with the lead," McCartney explains. "A lot of it was us going into the third period with leads and learning how to hold those leads. In the playoffs, we're going to need to play with those leads and be able to hold them going into the third, halfway through the third, or whenever."
While the Oil Capitals' highest-scoring player in the regular season had just 43 points (the league leader, Lucas Brennan, finished with 84), they are home to the playoff leader in both goals and assists. Nolan Chastko has six goals in as many games and scored a pair in Game 1 of the first-round. Dean Gorchinski is tied for the top spot in assists with seven and had three of those in their playoff opener.
One area the Terriers will want to be a bit better in is the penalty-kill. The Dogs gave up six power-play goals in round one, and Virden comes into this game converting on 21.1 per cent of their extra man opportunities in the playoffs.
"We watched our penalty-kill and, at times, we didn't like what we did but there were also some really good kills that we had," says McCartney. "I think it's about making sure we're not staying out there too long and we're getting the clears that we need. When we get a chance to clear the puck out of the zone, we need to make sure we get it down the first time, and it doesn't take us two or three tries. That killed us a couple of times last series. We'll tighten up but I don't think we're going to change too much."
The Terriers had the best penalty-kill in the regular season and are confident they'll be able to get back to that level starting tonight.
While the Oil Capitals may have some insider information about the Terriers from Lehto, Portage has somewhat of a double-agent in its own right. Goaltender Bailey Monteith was traded to Portage from the Oil Capitals in the offseason.
"They're an old team for him, and he knows how they play," McCartney explains. "Every time we played them throughout the year, he always had some stuff to talk about with them. I think there are a couple of things we can capitalize on but I don't think they're going to fold over because of our reputation or how we finished in the standings. They believe they can win, and it's not going to be easy. Bailey helps out a little bit but he doesn't necessarily know everything as systems and players change from year to year."
Game 1 goes down tonight in Portage, and McCartney believes the home fans will play a big role in this one.
"We feed off them. Everyone that's in the stands. Every person counts. When we go out, and everyone's cheering, when we score a big goal, when a guy makes a big block or a big hit, we love the energy that they give us. We build off that, and we strive off that. Keep filling it up because it only helps us."
Game 1 in the best-of-seven series is set for 7:30 at Stride Place. If you can't make it to the game, you can listen to it live on 920 CFRY.