Terriers blank Blizzard 1-0 in Game 6 to win third straight league title
You never write off a defending champion.
Chase Brakel struck 76 seconds after puck drop and netminder Kurtis Chapman shut the door in net as the Portage Terriers blanked the OCN Blizzard 1-0 to capture their third consecutive Turnbull Cup as Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions in front of a raucous sold-out crowd at Stride Place.
"The regular season was a learning process for our young guys and I thought when we got towards the end of the year we started doing things that would help us in the playoffs," said Paul Harland, assistant coach of the Portage Terriers following his team's Game 6 victory. "We got into a good series against Selkirk and we seemed to gain some momentum from that and in Steinbach we buckled down and played a good, solid defensive system and scored on our chances. I think we gained confidence from that and carried it into this series."
After a tight checking first period that saw the two teams combine for just 12 shots, the Terriers ran into some penalty trouble in the second period and spent the bulk of the first half shorthanded. Playoff MVP Josh Martin managed to get his body in front of several OCN point shots to help preserve his team's lead and fend off the OCN attack.
"We got a little bit rattled with some of the calls but our penalty kill stepped up in a big way," added Harland.
The Terriers refused to sit back in the final 20, and had the puck below the Blizzard goal line for much of the period, and if it weren't for some fantastic saves from netminder Brett Epp, the Blizzard would have been down far more.
Chapman made some huge saves in the final minute with the OCN net empty to secure their fourth straight win to overcome a 2-0 series deficit.
"We went to OCN and kind of got shocked by the atmosphere a bit and they took it to us pretty good in the first two games but we're a confident group in here," said Martin following the Game 6 victory. "We're young and have a lot of skill so we came back home, regrouped and pulled it off. I don't think there are any words, it's a pretty amazing way to go out.
Chapman got the win in net - his fourth straight after splitting much of the first two round's duties with fellow goalie Brock Aiken - with a 27 save shutout.
OCN's Brett Epp turned aside 19 of 20 Terrier shots in the losing effort.
Terriers silence their critics
Like the team has been doing all season long, the Portage Terriers persevered through some tumultuous waters - bending but never breaking - and came out the other side a stronger bunch.
Portage entered the 2016/17 campaign as the No. 5 ranked team in the country and started hot out of the gates. The dogs won nine of their first 10 games before back-to-back blowout losses at the hands of the Winkler Flyers and OCN Blizzard knocked things off the rails.
After a few weeks of mediocre hockey head coach and general manager Blake Spiller shipped captain Adam Wowryk to the Winnipeg Blues for a trio of players in an effort to spark his club. The shake-up brought offensive dynamo James McIsaac to the Terriers along with workhorse Takato Cox - both of which played huge roles in the Terrier Turnbull Cup run - but the team rode their inconsistent play all the way to a fifth place finish, marking the first time in the past three seasons the Terriers failed to finish the regular season as the league's top team.
After dropping the Selkirk Steelers in six games during the quarter finals, the Terriers found themselves matching up with an all too familiar foe. For the fifth straight year, the Terriers would have to go through the Steinbach Pistons - ranked No. 1 in the MJHL - to get to the Turnbull Cup.
Something seemed to have changed in that quarter final series, and after dropping the series opener 5-4 in Steinbach, the Terriers rallied to win the next three and knock off one of the top-seeded teams in the nation in six games.
The trend continued in the Turnbull Cup series during the dogs' first trip to The Pas. OCN chased the Terriers back to Portage with 8-3 and 6-0 victories to take a commanding 2-0 lead before the Terrier magic heated back up.
"The first two games were again a learning experience for our young team," added Harland. "After that, we just kind of played our game and I think as we matured and gained confidence and stuck with our systems, our guys started to play with a little more aggressiveness and realized they had a chance to win."
Nobody expected the Terriers to win the Turnbull Cup this season. Everybody should expect it next season.
This marks the organizations eleventh Turnbull Cup victory as champions of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and first time in team history they have won it in three consecutive seasons.