Canadiens to face Wainwright Bisons in first round
The St. Paul Canadiens will have their hands full after dropping the final two games of the regular season, falling from fifth to seventh place in the standings, and being slotted against the Wainwright Bisons in the post season.
The Canadiens picked up a 5-3 victory over the Vegreville Rangers on Friday, but fell 6-1 to the Saddle Lake Warriors on Saturday, and had their hopes at fifth in the standings shattered in a 3-2 loss to the Onion Lake Border Chiefs.
The devastating loss put the Canadiens two points out of fifth place, which would have seen them take on the Killam Wheat Kings in the first round of the playoffs – an ideal match up as the Habs managed a 4-0 record against Killam this season. However, now in seventh place, the Canadiens must face off against the Bisons in the opening round, who defeated the Habs in four straight appearences this season.
The Bisons controlled the Habs offensively in the season series, outscoring St. Paul 29-9 through the four match ups. Given the recent history between these two teams, defence will be the top priority for the Canadiens as the team opens the playoffs in Wainwright this weekend.
“If you take care of your own end, offensively things are going to come. We’ve shown that if we can’t be responsible defensively we get nothing going offensively. That’s just the nature of the game, and we need to string a little bit more consistency together,” said Canadiens Head Coach Joe Young. “What’s the old saying? Defence wins championships, and then everything else kind of falls into place.”
St. Paul Canadiens leading scorer Jalel Abougouche agreed that defence will be a primary focus as the Habs prepare for what’s sure to be a difficult playoff series against the Bisons.
“Defence first, we’re always looking for that pretty pass,” said Abougouche, who finished the season fifth in the league in scoring with 25 goals. “We’ve got to focus on defence first and the offense will come.”
Young said he was disappointed with the effort that his team brought to the ice in the final games of the season, and the mentality will need to change entering the post season.
“It would have been nice to string a few wins together. The past few games we played well, and then it just seemed like mentally we weren’t in it,” Young said following Saturday’s loss to the Saddle Lake Warriors. “Everyone knew how important this game was.”
Young said he has yet to decide who will start between the posts for Game 1 in Wainwright this weekend. Evan Joly posted a 9-6-0 record through 19 starts this season, coupled with a 4.71 goals against average and a .875 save percentage, while Jared Lafond put up a 6-13-0 record through 19 starts with a 4.91 goals against average and a .863 save percentage.
“I’m not sure yet. I haven’t really decided (who will start),” said Young. “I think they’ve both played well all year, and it just depends what kind of gut feeling I have going into that first game.”
Young added he feels a post-season series victory would bring a great deal of confidence to the Habs locker room, as well as a degree of pride to the town of St. Paul.
“I think it would be absolutely huge. It’s been a long, long time since this team has been competitive. Now we can actually go into the playoffs knowing we have a chance just like everyone else, whereas in the past it hasn’t been that way for a long time,” he said. “We have players that can do some pretty special things out there, and the playoffs are all about grit, so we’re going to have to up the grit a bit more and we’ll be okay.”