1ST ROUND: North Bay Warriors (1) vs. (8) Manhattan Supermen
Lack of offense dooms Manhattan; North Bay focuses on second round
March 21st, 2011
North Bay’s home ice arena was shaking as the fans united in a thunderous ovation after the Warriors defeated the Supermen 7-2 last night to advance to the second round of the AFHL Playoffs. Hats, shirts, and even a burning Superman jersey littered the ice.
“I guess the burning jersey is understandable,” said Superman defenseman Travis Hamonic on a series that was marred by 11 fights, including three bouts in the first four seconds of the first game. “We knew we didn’t have a chance to compete on offense so we wanted to be physical and we played with our fists. It wasn’t necessarily supposed to be fights, but it happened that way.”
Despite being ousted in the first round of the playoffs, the Supermen proved that the words “pride” and passion” are a big part of their vocabulary.
They came very close to pulling off an upset late in the series on Saturday night, when they tied it up 5-5 after getting a shorthanded point from Frans Nielsen. It wound up being a wake up call for the Warriors, but for the Supermen, it provided a glimpse of what the future holds.
“I think we made some big changes this year and we came close to beating the first place team so it’s definitely exciting for next season,” forward Bobby Ryan said. “We will be better because our young guys will be a year better.”
As for the Warriors, they’re ready to move on and get back to business, which is not surprising. Since the regular season started, and even more so since the playoffs began, this team has been all business.
“We want to enjoy it, but at the same time we know that our ultimate goal is ahead of us,” Warriors’ forward Alex Ovechkin said. “We’re going for the ultimate prize.”
Ovechkin was one of five Warriors to finish the series with four points. Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Chris Kunitz, and James Wisniewski were the others.
Manhattan didn’t have a single player with four or more points.
“This offense is really the best I’ve ever played with. We know how to move on from a goal and not get too high or too low,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a team effort and we know why you play this game and what the ultimate goal is. We do a great job of keeping that in perspective and that is huge in the playoffs. We never get too high or too low.”
“I know you guys hate those cliches, but we do believe in what we’re saying and we also do a good job at following it on the ice,” forward Vincent Lecavalier said. “This is a great dressing room, we have our fun, but when it’s time to play, yeah, we really are all business.”
Goaltender Pekka Rinne, who won a Stanley Cup with the London Mustangs last year, is ready for the second round.
“I’m excited, but I’m really looking forward to the next round and playing more playoff hockey,” Rinne said. “I helped London do it last year, I think I can help them [Warriors] do it this year. So really, I just want to keep playing and keep winning.”
North Bay Coach/GM Mike Brunetta appreciates that his team can practice what they preach.
“It’s the type of team where I really don’t have to say much to make them play better or correct their mistakes,” Brunetta said. “This team is always focused and they really are good at moving from one game to the next. That is probably one of our greatest strengths.”
Following the game, Brunetta was asked how long he would savor his first playoff victory since being hired last summer.
“Here today, gone tomorrow,” Brunetta said emphatically. “It’s back to business on Monday night vs. the Heroes. I want our guys focused and sharp so we’re going to have a light skate in the morning. But this is something that if we want it to last, we can’t let our guard down too long.”
1ST ROUND: Washington Power (2) vs. (7) Fort Drum Killers
Power GM Irwin adept at changing on the fly; leaves Killers stunned, disappointed
March 21st, 2011
An uneasy silence pierced the Fort Drum Killers’ dressing room Sunday night after an 8-1 playoff defeat put another premature end to their season.
It’s a feeling that is becoming all too common for the Killers, who only added another layer to their reputation as a great regular season team that can’t get it done in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We can go into the details, who and what, but the bottom line is that they were a better team than us,” said Fort Drum goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who was outplayed by Washington’s Roberto Luongo and Dwayne Roloson in the series. “It’s unfortunate. It’s not like we played badly. We battled, we fought, but that’s what happens when you get off to a slow start against a team like the Power. It’s a hard mountain to climb.”
“They’ve got you by the throat and they keep you down. We were never able to get a lead.”
Outside of a fight between Chris Stewart and the Power’s Mike Knuble right after the opening faceoff, the Killers’ two biggest stars, Stewart and Ilya Kovalchuk, fell into a series slumber and neither was a factor on offense vs. the Power.
“It’s just opportunities we let slip away,” Kovalchuk said. “We didn’t rise to the forefront when those opportunities came up to make the most of them.”
Fort Drum Coach/GM Steve Stryska will look to see what changes have to be made after the team’s latest playoff disappointment.
“The lesson has to be learned that you can’t give games away,” Stryska said. “My recollection is that may be history here a little bit. We’ll have to look at how we can change that in the offseason.”
Washington Power GM Ray Irwin said it’s been a good challenge for him and his team and he’s happy about winning his first AFHL playoffs series.
“It’s been good. All of the guys on our team have stepped up their games, including the new guys that we brought in at the deadline” said Irwin.
Throughout the year, Irwin steadily reworked his club on the fly and built it into the elite team that it is today. But it was Irwin’s work at the AFHL Trade Deadline, and on that fast-paced day itself that helped re-energize the slumping Power players and put Washington in position to win their first playoff series matchup.
Newly acquired Danny Briere, Teemu Selanne, and Scott Gomez combined for nine points (three goals and six assists) in the first round win vs. Fort Drum.
“To bring in some guys like that who have been in the league a bit and have some of that experience, it’s helped us a lot for sure.” said Power forward Dany Heatley.
More than contributing points in the first round win, the talkative trio has been credited with livening up a dressing room that had grown a little quiet over time.
“I think that’s our personalities,” Briere said. “You can ask any of the North Bay guys. I like to have fun in the room and I probably take more heat than anybody. It’s all in good fun. I just like hanging out with people. I like my teammates and I enjoy hanging out with them.”
After scoring 46 total points on offense vs. Fort Drum in the first round, Washington looks comfortable and poised going into the next round to face the defending Stanley Cup champion London Mustangs. But the team insists they’re not taking anything for granted.
“I think the confidence is key,” Selanne said. “That’s everything pretty much. When you have confidence as a team, usually good things happen. But you can’t be overconfident. We know what we have to do and we have to find a way to do it against the Mustangs.”
1ST ROUND: St. John’s Red Wings (3) vs. London Mustangs (6)
Heart-breaker ending numbs Wings; defending champs move on
Rick Nash scored four points on Saturday to help the Mustangs’ advance to the second round.
March 21st, 2011
The sights and sounds — or lack of them — told the story of the 7-2 first round loss to the Mustangs, one of the most painful losses in the history of the St. John’s Red Wings franchise.
Just when the Wings were within striking distance of the goals category, Mustangs’ forward Rick Nash returned from a minor injury on Saturday, to slam home a one-timer from a bad angle as the Wings scrambled to clear the zone. Then, a few minutes later, Nash picked up a head of speed in the neutral zone and came barreling down the right wing, firing a seeing-eye shot that beat Marc Andre Fleury between his blocker and his leg pad. Nash finished that game with two goals, and two assists.
“The dreaded 7-hole,” Fleury said after the game in a dejected Wings dressing room.
A four point performance from Rick Nash turned a rocking St. John’s home ice arena into flat-line silence.
Towel-waving fans that threatened to raise the roof off the building as Fleury turned aside several shots early on were suddenly rendered by the meltdown in the second half.
Afterward, the Wings’ players couldn’t even process what had happened, how after acquiring several top line players at the trade deadline for a chance to win the Cup evaporated in a sickening blink of the eye.
“It’s going to hurt for a long time; I’ll tell you that much,” said forward Henrik Zetterberg who was brilliant in scoring the two goals for the Wings and shutting down London’s top line line for most of the matchup, but was on the ice Nash’s second goal.
“This one will definitely stick with me for a while, only because we had plenty of opportunities to get the lead,” said Alexander Semin who sat motionless for several minutes after the dressing room opened, a Gatorade towel draped over his head as he stared straight ahead, seeing nothing. “To gear up for the playoffs and bring in almost twice as much talent only to lose in the first round… crazy.”
Andrei Kostitsyn, who had a monster series, but was on the ice for both of Nash’s goals, was still sitting in his locker as the media left the dressing room, at least 25 minutes after the game’s final buzzer ending a year that just two weeks earlier had been a postseason full of promise for the Wings.
It won’t be an easy task, said Wings’ Coach/GM Barry Hickey. A hockey lifer, Hickey has absorbed some gut-punch losses during his many years in the game. But, Sunday night might just be the worst of all.
“I really don’t know what to say… shocked and stunned,” Hickey said, pinching the bridge of his nose with his left hand as he spoke at the post-game press conference. “It’s the toughest loss I have ever been a part of. It’s impossible to put into words the disappointment I am feeling and everyone in the room is feeling.”
“It’s not the way you want to end your season,” Wings’ defenseman Duncan Keith mumbled as he drifted off into the shower to begin facing a summer that arrived so suddenly Sunday night.
“I still don’t know what it’s like to lose in the playoffs,” London Coach/GM Blake Wilson said in the winning dressing room Sunday night as the sellout, raucous and celebratory Mustangs’ fans filed out of the building onto the streets of London. “The key for us is not to think about it. We believed we could win the series and we did it.”
“Everybody knows they are a great team,” Wilson said. “But our guys were positive all weeks and never lost focus.”
Rick Nash credited Jamie Benn to save the Mustangs’ season.
“This series came down to those little bounces, and Benn did a great job of keeping that puck in the zone and it always comes down to small things like that that make a difference,” Nash said. “He was on his knees and two guys came at him and he made a great pass to me and that first goal was all him.”
“I’m not the only guy on this team,” Benn said. “There are a lot of guys who make a difference on this team, and it needs to be that way for us to beat Washington in the second round.”
1ST ROUND: Calgary Hitmen (4) vs. Vancouver Heroes (5)
Inconsistency ends Calgary’s season; Heroes know they need more in second round
March 21st, 2011
The Vancouver Heroes are the first AFHL team to win a playoff round the spring after losing in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s nice but we can and we’re going to have to (raise our game) for the Warriors,” Heroes forward Daniel Sedin said.
The Heroes did a lot of things right in getting past the Calgary Hitmen in the first round of this year’s playoffs. But the one glaring problem is the Heroes’ power play, which mustered up only five points against Calgary, which is less than each of London, Washington, and North Bay’s PPP totals.
That’s not what you expect from a team that can trot out two of the league’s top scorers, one of the elite offensive-minded defensemen of his generation and a dominant net-front presence on its first power-play unit.
“Certainly (power play) is going to be a huge difference in games for us if we want to keep winning,” Henrik Sedin said. “We’ve got to figure it out. We did some good things; it’s a matter of executing and putting it in.”
Hitmen forward Jarret Stoll said his team still has a lot to be proud of after the first round loss.
“In our room we feel like we’re stronger. Just the fact that we made the playoffs this year speaks volumes about how far we’ve come and how much better we are.”
In front of 20,072 roaring fans midway through the matchup, the Hitmen came close to grabbing a lead in the series, but pucks kept bouncing the Heroes’ way as first Brandon Prust and then Antti Miettinen batted pucks out of midair and past Jonathan Quick to increase their lead. Then on Saturday, the Hitmen were caught on a line change when Henrik Sedin dashed into the Calgary end and dropped a pass for Ryan Callahan, and his wrister from the right circle got past Quick and effectively ended the Hitmen’s season. Callahan scored his third goal late in the matchup to secure the 7-3 victory.
It was a tough, bitter, abrupt end to the season.
“We had ourselves where we needed to be,” said Calgary Coach/GM Pat McKenna. “If it wasn’t for injuries, we could have won this series. But things happens and we’re not going to dwell on it. There were some positives to emerge this season. We had some great balance on offense, goaltending has been stellar, puck movement out of the defensive zone has improved, and there was great development from young players like Matt Calvert, Ryan Shannon, and Dustin Byfuglien.
McKenna said there will be changes this summer, however.
“This team does not need major changes,” McKenna said. “We will tweak it where we have to. We will analyze where we need a little improvement and we’ll work hard to try and get it.”
“They do have a good, young team,” Heroes’ Coach/GM Kyle Kebert said. “They made some nice plays out there and beat us a couple times along the boards.”
Kebert said it was a good test for him after getting his first taste of the AFHL playoffs since replacing former Heroes’ Coach Ben Rauscher six months ago.
“You have to get tested,” Kebert said. “The Stanley Cup Playoffs are not a breeze, it’s not a walk-through. A team is not going to make it all the way to the Finals without a test. We were tested by a good team and we responded well with great goaltending and whether it’s the power play and being more consistent in how we make plays or sticking to our game plan no matter what the score or situation is. We passed the test.”
The Heroes’ will face the first place Warriors in second round, and Kebert said he’s not too worried.
“North Bay is obviously stacked on offense, rolling three lines deep so they are certainly going to push us to areas where we may deviate a little bit, but if we battle hard and get great goaltending from Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov, then we should have success.”