The Weyburn Red Wings and Flin Flon Bombers are squared up and ready to go in their best-of-three Survivor Series. The 7th seeded Bombers will visit Crescent Point Place tonight to take on the 10-seed Red Wings.
It's a matchup of one of the stranger rivalries in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and has plenty of intrigue in a short series. The last time these teams met in the postseason resulted in the infamous Moose Leg incident, which current Red Wings assistant Tucker Neuberger had a part in. Throw in a line brawl and a goalie fight earlier this season and a deadline deal that shipped Wings captain Cade Kowalski to the Bombers, and there is all sorts of bad blood between these teams.
Flin Flon and Weyburn met recently on February 13 and that game needed overtime to decide a winner. Flin Flon ultimately came away with the 3–2 win, but the Red Wings proved they're a capable opponent on that night. More importantly than proving that to the Bombers — they proved it to themselves.
Confidence has been a huge factor for this team, whether it means they're playing to the best of their abilities or in a slump. They'll need a solid start tonight to make sure they play a competitive game one and make it an interesting series. Home ice is going to be huge in the Wildcard round, as the Whitney Forum might be the toughest place to play in the entire SJHL. Stealing two on the road will be a tough task and the Red Wings will have to be sharp in game one.
Injuries have plagued the Red Wings season and have been a big reason for the droughts at varying times. Sean Olson, Jordan Kazymyra, Drew Anderson, Will Cruise, Jacob Piller, Connor Pyne and Garrett Szeremley have all missed a handful of games over the past few months with injury.
"If we had those boys healthy all season long, we wouldn't be in the Survivor Series I don't believe. The biggest thing is the boys have been showing a lot of heart lately," team President Brent Stephanson said. "Our last two games against Estevan were great and I think we totally outplayed Yorkton. We just got to keeping slugging. I know the boys were a little dejected [after Tuesday's loss] but they realized they had put a good effort in and that's all we can ask."
The Red Wings are finally all healthy and coming in with momentum, having been playing some of their best hockey of the season. Coming in winners of three of their past five, the Wings are getting contributions from all over the lineup. Players are stepping into their roles and doing what's necessary to help the team win. That is going to be vital to pulling the first round upset.
Flin Flon went all in this year and has a deep and potent offensive attack. They too are getting healthy at the right time and welcomed the return of defenceman Tyler Higgins and Calvon Boots. They can roll three or even four forward lines that are all dangerous with the puck. Weyburn has to play a defensive-first minded game to limit opportunities for the Bombers.
The powerplay of the Flon is especially dangerous with the likes of Nate Hooper, Brandson Hein, Chrystopher Collin, Boots and Kowalski able to generate all sorts of scoring opportunities. They finished with 77 powerplay goals and had the second-best efficiency in the league, converting at 21.6 percent.
Weyburn had the fourth-ranked powerplay unit, and it might turn into whoever can capitalize on their special teams opportunities may have the upper hand in the shortened series.
However, goaltending might be the biggest factor in deciding the series. Rookie Cody Levesque has ran with the starting job the past month or so and has been a big part of the Wings recent success. He's facing off with veteran goalie Gabriel Waked who has spent time in the QMJHL and was brought in at the roster deadline by the Bombers. He's looked shaky at times, but has played better as of late and Flin Flon will need home to be at his best for the remainder of the season if they hope to make some noise.
If Waked stumbles, the Wings have to be able to take advantage and try and keep up with the offensive firepower Flin Flon possesses. On the flip side, they will need Levesque to elevate his game to the next level to help shut down the Bombers offence.
Possibly the biggest fuel to the fire in the Survivor Series is the desertion of the former Red Wing Kowalski. His departure left a sour taste in a lot of people' mouths around the team and they would love nothing more than to end his season. The man on the other end of that deal was Dawson McKenzie. He too will be itching to play his old mates and show Flin Flon exactly what they're missing since they dealt him.
McKenzie has been great for Weyburn since coming over at the deadline. He has seven points in his last five games and has found great chemistry with Drew Anderson on the second line. Along with Jacob Piller, they've been excellent for the Red Wings down the stretch.
It will take all hands on deck for the Wildcard round to knock off the Bombers and advance on to the second round. Belief is a dangerous thing in sports and the Red Wings are playing confident right now. Playoffs are a different animal and truly anything can happen. The best-of-three plays into Weyburn's favour and a win on home ice to kick off the series would go a long way.
You can catch all the games on Red Wing Radio BIG106, with the pre-game show starting 10 minutes prior to puck drop.
GAME 1: Friday, March 8, 7:30 @ Crescent Point Place
GAME 2: Sunday, March 10, 7:30 (6:30 Sask. time) @ Whitney Forum
GAME 3*: Monday, March 11, 7:30 (6:30 Sask. time) @ Whitney Forum