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WHL Cup – Day 4: Alberta, British Columbia bound for gold medal game
Derek Leung

 

Semi-final Saturday at the 2017 Western Hockey League Cup saw Friday’s round-robin matches replayed, with Alberta and B.C. emerging victorious once again, sending them to Sunday’s gold medal final.

Manitoba 1 at Alberta 7

After getting a scare from Manitoba in the round-robin Friday, Alberta didn’t leave anything to chance Saturday with a spot in the championship game on the line.

Kyle Crnkovic (Saskatoon Blades) and captain Jake Neighbours (Edmonton Oil Kings) each had three point games, while Connor McClennon (Kootenay ICE) added a pair of points in the semi-final victory. In net, Garin Bjorklund (Medicine Hat Tigers), made 17 saves for his third win of the tournament.

I think we played great today,” Alberta defenceman Logan Dowhaniuk (Edmonton Oil Kings) said. “All around our goaltending all the way up to the forwards we played great.

“I think we’re ready to go tomorrow.”

Ridly Greig (Brandon Wheat Kings) opened the scoring 4:51 into the first, cutting around a Manitoba defender on the outside and finding a hole big enough to shoot the puck through on the short-side, giving his province the first lead of the game.

Crnkovic added his second of the tournament five minutes later, as Manitoba gave the Chestermere, Alta. native time and space to move around the slot before sniping the puck past Nikulas Jerris (Medicine Hat Tigers) to double his province’s lead.

Manitoba looked like they were in for a long afternoon until Seth Jarvis (Portland Winterhawks) answered back 26 seconds later, creating a turnover on his own blue line and then rushing down the ice, before dangling the puck to the left before shooting top shelf on Bjorklund.

The tough goals continued to go against Manitoba though. McClennon put a harmless looking shot on net from the side boards at a bad angle, but it found its way through Jerris to restore his province’s two-goal lead.

Joel Sexsmith (Swift Current Broncos) would round out a four-goal first period for Alberta, wiring the puck past Dante Giannuzzi (Portland Winterhawks) on a pass from Ozzy Wiesblatt (Prince Albert Raiders) to put his side up by three after 20.

Whereas Alberta felt like yesterday’s win was incomplete, Greig felt his team got back to having fun out on the ice with a better effort the end result.

“Today was a good win,” Greig said. “Preparation starts now for the gold medal game.

“[The] boys are pumped so it should be good.”

Alberta added two more goals in the second period, with Crnkovic continuing his string of offensive success. Neighbours fed it to McClennon in the middle, who fed it over to the Blades prospect, who had not troubles roofing the puck into the net.

On a power play four minutes later, Kaiden Guhle (Prince Albert Raiders), Ronan Seeley (Everett Silvertips) and Neighbours worked the puck around up top before Guhle one-timed it past Giannuzzi to build the lead up to 6-1.

It was all part of a game that didn’t go Manitoba’s way besides the lone goal. Bjorklund was major part of Manitoba’s frustrations despite the relatively easy workload, but Manitoba’s players had no problem acknowledging their faults post-game and the desire to be better going into the bronze-medal matchup.

“Alberta came out fast, but we have to learn from this,” defenceman Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw Warriors) said. “Our structure wasn’t there at first, but as that game progressed we slowly adapted.

“The score wasn’t the way we wanted to, but we kept pushing.”

Jarvis echoed his teammates comments, saying his side came out of the gate “flat” Saturday.

“We kinda almost got what we deserved,” Manitoba’s lone goalscorer added. “It’s a new day tomorrow and hopefully we can go win a bronze.”

In the third, Jordan Borysiuk (Red Deer Rebels) scored his second of the tournament, winning the race to a loose puck, charging down on Giannuzzi and beating him far side for Alberta’s final goal of the day.

Saskatchewan 0 at British Columbia 7

Payton Mount (Seattle Thunderbirds) scored a pair of goals while Vincent Iorio (Brandon Wheat Kings) and Tyler Horstmann (Edmonton Oil Kings) each had three assists in B.C.’s second lopsided win over Saskatchewan in as many days.

Dylan Garand (Kamloops Blazers) picked up his first win of the tournament after turning aside all 17 shots he faced. The clean sheet marked the first time in WHL Cup history a province had shutout their opponents in back-to-back games during the tournament.

“I thought the boys were battling hard every shift, doing their jobs,” Garand, a product of Victoria, B.C., said. “Everything went well for us tonight.

“Hopefully we can give a little more tomorrow and we’re excited for it.”

Mount tallied the game-winner 5:29 into the game on a shot that dribbled past Saskatchewan goaltender Bryan Thomson (Lethbridge Hurricanes) to open the scoring.

Less than eight minutes later, B.C. were on the offensive again. After Ryan Helliwell (Portland Winterhawks) had his shot on net stopped, the rebound went into the slot, where Ethan Bowen (Kelowna Rockets) was waiting and he made no mistake in burying his first of the tournament.

“Our team moved the puck really well,” forward Justin Sourdif (Vancouver Giants) said.  “The power plays really helped. We capitalized on our power plays so I think that helped us a lot in the long run.

Sourdif and Mount added goals 3:06 apart in the second period. With the score already out of hand in the third, B.C. added three more goals to their total, with Klaen Szeto (Saskatoon Blades), John Little (Vancouver Giants) and Ben King (Swift Current Broncos) all lighting the lamp.

For Saskatchewan, the loss was a disappointment as they will find themselves playing in the bronze medal game Sunday for the seventh-straight edition of the tournament.

“I just don’t think we were hard enough,” forward Josh Pillar (Kamloops Blazers) said. “I just think we have to stay positive and get excited to play for this [bronze medal] game.”

Defenceman Alex Ozar (Saskatoon Blades) echoed the comments of his teammate, as he felt his team could beat Manitoba like they did earlier in the round-robin portion of the tournament.

“We have to get our legs going and pressure them hard,” Ozar said.

Stanley Cooley (Prince George Cougars) didn’t find the back of the net, but led his club with six shots.

Day five at the 2017 WHL Cup

With eight games in the books at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, Alta., Sunday’s games will see the teams fight for their final overall placings and three different colours of medals.

The first game of the day will see Manitoba and Saskatchewan meet to determine the bronze medal at 9:30 a.m. MT. Sunday’s game will mark the fourth time the two provinces have squared off for the bronze. Manitoba has won two of the three previous bronze medal meetings, including a 4-1 victory last year and a 10-3 result in 2013. Saskatchewan’s 2-1 victory in 2012 was also their last medal at the tournament.They also took third place in the inaugural edition of the tournament back in 2009.

For the fourth time in seven editions of the tournament, Alberta and British Columbia will square off for the gold medal and bragging rights at the Western Hockey League Cup. Alberta has come out on top in three of the four previous meetings, including last year’s 3-2 victory in overtime. Alberta has never failed to make it to the gold medal game of the tournament while B.C. will be making their fourth appearance in the championship game.

The two westerly provinces will battle once again for gold starting at 1:30 p.m.

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