The St. Albert Slash outscored the Spruce Grove PAC Saints 13-3 in two games while sweeping the opening playoff round in the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League.
Melissa Kueber scored twice in game one, a 6-2 win at Akinsdale Arena. Tegan Rose, Sabrina Flemming, Jessica Kampjes and Krystal Reithmayer notched singles. The Slash went two-for-six on the power play and killed off all seven of their own penalties. Emily Mitchell stopped 19 shots in net.
In game two, the play was far more lopsided as the Slash directed 56 shots on net and allowed only 14 on Mitchell in Saturday’s 7-1 series clincher at Stu Barnes Arena. Kampjes, Reithmayer and Karly Heffernan each had a pair of goals and Kueber a single as the Slash went three-for-seven on the power play.
“We've had close games with them all year. We wanted to make sure we kept our energy up and come out focused, get a good start to the game and keep rolling. We wanted to stay with our special teams the way they've been going and not get away from what's been successful for us,” said head coach Terry Sydor.
One of the biggest challenges in the series for the Slash was not taking for granted a team that only had one point in the regular season.
“Our coaches told us to believe in ourselves and in the team and that everything would fall into place if we kept working hard,” said Taryn McCormick who had three assists in game two.
“We had to come in strong like we usually do,” added Kampjes. “We couldn't take them lightly. We can't worry about their standings and make that change how we play. We had to make sure we didn't let up and kept going hard on them.”
Heffernan opened the scoring Saturday with a net-crasher goal six minutes into the first period. Reithmayer's first goal halfway through the frame was a mirror image tally. Kampjes power play goal late in the period was an easy stuff home on a backdoor pass from McCormick to put the Slash up 3-0.
“We drove hard to the net and got the rebounds,” Kampjes said.
Heffernan's second goal, a backhand deke in tight through the five-hole, gave the Slash a four-goal margin three minutes into the second.
The Saints got on the board when Gillian Altheim turned the puck over at the Slash blue line, walked in alone and wired a shot past Mitchell's blocker to pull her team to within three.
But that was the Saints’ best chance of the game as the Slash poured on the pressure. Kueber converted a loose puck in a goalmouth scramble late in the period to make it 5-1. Reithmayer and Kampjes added insurance markers early in the third.
“It was a do-or-die game for them and we kept the pedal down. I was really happy with the effort and the communication out on the ice. It looked kind of like a saddle-bronc coming out of the chute and it was good to see,” Sydor said. “Momentum's a funny thing and we wanted to keep it on our side. They got the shorty [by Altheim] but we bounced back from that well and finished strong.”
The Slash will face the Lloydminster Steelers in the north division semifinals starting this weekend in the Border City. The Slash (13-11-8) lost the season series 1-2-1 to the second-place Steelers (15-10-7), with two of the contests decided by just one goal.
“We've had good games against Lloydminster. We're confident and we believe we can beat them. It's a matter of executing it out on the ice,” Sydor said.
This is the furthest the Slash have advanced into the playoffs since their second year in 2005/06. They finished third in the regular season that year and went all the way to the league final, sweeping the Sherwood Park Fury, Steelers and Edmonton Thunder in straight games before losing to Warner.
Nobody's running to the bank just yet, but the Slash finished third this season and swept the opening round. Sydor is quietly hoping it's an omen of things to come, but knows the Slash are facing a tough netminder in Jillian Diachuk.
“She's a big, young lady and we seem to have trouble elevating the puck on her. This week we're going to try work on that. We get a lot of shots when we play them but we need to capitalize on our chances,” Sydor said.
Game one is Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Russway Arena and game two is Sunday at noon at the Civic Centre. Game three is Feb. 26 at Mark Messier Arena at 8:45 p.m.