Great North semi-final pairs

February 13, 2018

It will be the no. 1 seed North Bay Trappers v. the no. 5 seed Timmins Majors and the no. 2 seed Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves v. the no. 3 seed Kapuskasing Flyers in the second round of the Great North Midget Hockey League playoffs.

Both sets will be best-of-five series and will open this weekend.

While North Bay and Sudbury had first-round byes, Timmins and Kapuskasing advanced with two-game sweeps.

Riding the mind-bending goal-tending of Dylan Dallaire, Timmins upset the no. 4 seed Soo Greyhounds with a pair of one-goal victories while Kapuskasing shut down no. 6 seed New Liskeard Cubs by out-scoring them 8-1.

North Bay finished a whopping 35 points ahead of Timmins over the course of the 36-game, regular-season schedule but Trappers veteran coach Guy Blanchard has a lot of respect for the Majors.

“Timmins is certainly by far the most improved team in our league,” Blanchard told Hockey News North. “They play much better in their zone and have a very much improved power play. They play hard and work hard and we will need to be at the top of our game to ensure our wins.”

Blanchard emphasized that regular season point totals count for nothing now.

“Regular season is done and playoff is a totally new schedule. We need to play our game, keep the tempo up, use our transition game and attack with lots of pressure and net presence,” added Blanchard.

As Blanchard is a coaching veteran of many decades dating back to his days in the Ontario Hockey League and Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, Timmins has a rookie bench boss in the soon-to-be-29-year old Brandon Perry.

And as Perry respects Blanchard and the Trappers, he is in serious plan mode for the upcoming series.

“As I think about North Bay it’s hard not to recognize their record and the amount players they have in the top 20 in scoring,” Perry began. “So, I think you start thinking about their depth and how we are going to match three or four lines against them every night for 60 minutes.

“On top of their skill, speed, depth and experience, they have one of best coaches in midget hockey with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Scary right? Well, we are going to approach it one game at a time and what we lack in skill and point production we make up for in heart and effort and a laser focus on systems and discipline,” Perry relayed to Hockey News North.

“We have a lineup full of gamers who are ready to prove the naysayers wrong. We can’t get in a run and gun match against North Bay. They can score, so we have to keep games close and rely on solid d-zone play and we know we are more than capable in net,” Perry added.

Timmins won only two games in 2016-2017 but has boosted that total to 16 — including two playoff triumphs — in 2017-2018 in what has been a nice turnaround under Perry and his staff.

“Our group has continued to surprise a lot of people this year, we are going to focus on what we do well and what we can control … keep our heads in it every minute and keep our legs moving. We’ve played some good games against North Bay this year falling just short a few times,” Perry continued.

“So, we’ll take the positives out of what we did well in those games and continue to improve in the areas where we fell short. Make no mistake it’s a tall task but I’m confident in my group and we will be ready to ‘shock the world’, so to speak.

“I know my kids, I know their resolve and their eagerness to work and learn and get better and I couldn’t be more excited for Game 1 on Friday night in North Bay,” Perry exclaimed.

Meanwhile, the other series that pits Sudbury and Kapuskasing features a Nickel Capitals outfit that finished 23 points ahead of the Flyers during the regular season.

Sudbury coach Peter Michelutti Jr. gave his views to Hockey News North on the upcoming playoff with Kapuskasing.

“Although being the host of the 2018 Telus Cup, our goal like the remaining teams in the Great North, is to win the playoffs and represent the NOHA at the Central Regions,” Michelutti Jr. began.

“We are expecting a physical and tough series with Kapuskasing but our team needs to execute our game plan. We are a team with depth and speed and very disciplined. To have almost 200 less penalty minutes than any other team this season is an accomplishment to our players and is one of the things we have stressed all year long,” the Sudbury bench boss pointed out.

“We need to continue to use our team speed and create scoring opportunities by pressuring the opposing team and capitalizing on their mistakes,” Michelutti Jr. continued. “Although the season standings may show a big gap, we are well aware of how well-coached Kapuskasing is and that they always play their best at this time of the season. It’s a much different season now compared to September and we need to make sure the players are prepared to play a long series.

To be sure, Kapuskasing coach Glen Denney is well aware of the challenge facing the Flyers.

“The biggest challenge with Sudbury is playing on the Olympic ice,” Denney told Hockey News North. “Our home rink is much smaller. Without going up to James Bay we have no way to emulate the angles and ice to defend and attack. You have to use the dots and not the boards as your focal points so you don’t get caught running around the ice and out of position.

“The keys to victory for us are puck management, keeping pucks and bodies in front of us, and discipline and patience,” Denney pointed out.

Denney has plenty of praise for what Sudbury has and does.

“They have a hard working group that backtracks well and pounces on mistakes really quickly. Clean exits and entries — puck management — are key and if we have nothing don’t look for high-risk, low-reward plays but put pucks in high-percentage areas for us to keep possession of the puck. It’s a lot easier to play with the puck at Countryside Arena than without.

“It’s a simple idea of defensive side position but on Olympic ice it can be really easy to get on the incorrect side of the player or puck. Good defense is just attention to the details and hard work. Which ever team takes care of those two items probably wins the series. If we can keep everything outside we believe we have great goal-tending and that will give us a great opportunity to be successful,” Denney added.

“Lastly, it’s discipline and patience,” Denney continued. “Sudbury’s a very sound team defensively and (goalie) Alex Vendette has been outstanding for them when they do make a mistake. That may be our biggest challenge, we have a lot of young men that up to this year have created offense really easily and going against the type of hockey Sudbury can play can be frustrating for them. It will be our job as a staff to keep their focus and capitalize when they opportunity arises.”

PHOTO: Timmins Majors goalie Dylan Dallaire.

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