With the regular season now in the books, the first round playoff matchups in the Manitoba Midget “AAA” League have now been set.
Below is a breakdown of all four first-round matchups.
(1) Winnipeg Wild vs (8) Central Plains Capitals
The Wild finished the season first place in the league with a record of 41-5-0-1-1, outscoring their opponents 325-107. That offence was led by Bemidji State commit Kyle Bettens who won the league scoring title with 95 points (40G, 55A) in 48 games. That dominance over their opponents extended to the Central Plains Capitals, as the Wild swept the season series 4-0 (6-2, 3-2, 7-1, 6-4).
Despite having the four wins, the Wild were in tough in the last game against the Capitals, who were surging as they pushed to make the post-season. Central Plains went 8-1 in the month of February, as they narrowly edged out the Pembina Valley Hawks for the final playoff spot. The Capitals are led by their captian, Reily Funk. The Portage Terriers prospect split the season between the Terriers and Capitals, putting up 61 points (29G, 32A) in midget “AAA” play.
If the Capitals can continue their streak of tenacious play, this could be an upset in the making. On the other side of the coin, however, if the Wild can get fast transition game going like they have all season, there is also the possibility of a quick series with the number one seed moving on.
(2) Brandon Wheat Kings vs (7) Southwest Cougars
The Brandon Wheat Kings will be in tough against one of the hottest teams in the league. Despite finishing second in the league, the Wheat Kings have lost two of their best players that got them to where they are. The Wheaties lost star goalie Trent Miner on January 10th as he was called up by the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. Despite not finishing the year in the league, Miner finished as the league leader in GAA (1.64) and save percentage (.941). Since being called up, Trent Miner has played in four games with the Giants, posting a 3.13 GAA and .918sv%. Also missing for the Wheat Kings is defenceman Daemon Hunt, who was called up by the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
The season series was won 3-1 by Brandon, but Southwest is coming into the playoffs on a roll having won three straight and five of their last six. The Cougars are led by Jared McCorrister, who put up 49 points (33G, 16A) in 42 games. Riley Wallace has been solid between the pipes for the Southwest team, posting a record of 19-10 with a 2.67GAA and .917sv%.
This is another series that can go either way. If the team play that brought the Cougars into the playoffs continues they have a shot at the upset. On the other hand, if the Wheat Kings focus on the team they have, which includes 84-point rookie Nolan Ritchie, the series is well within reach for the Wheaties.
(3) Winnipeg Bruins vs (6) Yellowhead Chiefs
Despite making it to the league finals last year, Yellowhead has regressed a bit, coming into the playoffs as the number six seed with a record of 62-20-0-2.
The Bruins, who are coming off a dominant performance in the last weekend against the Norman Northstars, will be looking to shake off their 3-6 month of February in the playoffs. They’ll be relying on their top line of Jayson Szun, Blake Burr and Kyle Lang. The trio finished with a combined 194 points and 88 goals. Winnipeg won the season series with Yellowhead 3-1.
Yellowhead will be in tough, as the scoring has been hard to come by this season. Chad Nychuck led the team in scoring with 61 points (17G, 44A) in 47 games. The Chiefs will be relying heavily on former Norman Northstars goaltender Jeremy Dutcawich, who posted a 22-17 record.
(4) Winnipeg Thrashers vs (5) Eastman Selects
The 4-5 series, as expected, should be the closest and most tightly-contested matchup in the first round. The two teams split their regular season series, and finished the season with the same amount of points, 57. The Thrashers will get home ice advantage, however, as they finished with two more wins.
Josiah Vanderhooft leds the Thrashers offence, and finished the season with 50 points (25G, 25A) in 48 points. He finished the season strong with 14 points (6G, 8A) in the final eight games of the season. Eastman is led by Cole Dekoninck, who had 58 points (20G, 38A) in 48 games. The Kelowna Rockets prospect played two games with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines this season.
This is the one series that should go down to the wire, as there isn’t much separating the two teams.
The first round of the playoffs will begin on Friday March 2nd, with the final wrapping up on March 30th.