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Stamps Headed to First MJHL Final

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It’s taken 20 years, but the Swan Valley Stampeders are going to the MJHL final. The Stamps punched their ticket for a shot at the Turnbull Cup Monday night in Steinbach in a thrilling 5-3 victory over the Pistons. Swan Valley wins the best-of-seven series 4-2.
After failing to clinch the series at home in Game 5 Saturday night, the Stamps had to do things the hard way and clinch the series on the road. Of course, Swan Valley had won the previous two games in Steinbach, so they knew they could win in hostile territory.
Swan Valley came out swinging and really set Steinbach on their heels with another dominating first period. But the game was still up for grabs until the final buzzer, and the Pistons managed to claw their way back into the game following what had to be a worse-case scenario for the defending champs.
“We wanted to get a good start, and from there they battled back and didn’t quit,” said Stamps head coach Barry Wolff minutes after the win. “Their fore check was tremendous. It has been all series, but tonight they really pushed hard. They chipped away and got it close.”
The Stamps set the tone for the game on the opening shift as Bradly Goethals fired home his seventh of the playoffs just 31 seconds into the game for an early 1-0 lead. Matthew Osadick made it 2-0 7:04 into the frame, before Steinbach got into the contest as Riley Vautour scored his fourth of the series 12 minutes in.
But Tucker Scantlebury added two goals in the final 4:31 of the first period to run his playoff total to seven, and the Stampeders found themselves with an impressive 4-1 lead after 20 minutes.
The Pistons clawed a little closer in the second, as Tanner Mole netted his sixth of the playoffs six minutes into the frame, leaving the Stampeders with a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Steinbach got even closer in the third as Kyle Bettens cut the lead to one goal with 5:18 left on the clock. But a double minor for high sticking by Steinbach’s Tristan Culleton with 4:43 left in the game really crippled the Pistons’ chances of tying the game.
And though they were able to kill the double-minor, they left themselves too little time to mount a final attack. Dane Hirst put the cherry on top with an empty-net goal with a single second left in the game to make the final 5-3.
“The players are very excited – most of them have never been to a league final,” said Wolff. “They earned it with hard work.”
Matt Radomsky redeemed himself with a stellar final 40 minutes to give his team a chance. He finished with 31 saves while taking the loss. Merek Pipes of the Stampeders made 26 saves for his eighth win of the post season.
The Stamps only went 1-for-6 on the man advantage, while the Pistons were 0-for-3 (though they scored two goals just after power-plays expired).
Pistons 3, Stampeders 2
The only reason the Steinbach Pistons were able to force a Game 6 in their best-of-seven series against the Swan Valley Stampeders is thanks to the play of their all-star netminder.
Radomsky rattled off 57 saves Saturday night to help the Pistons edge the Stampeders 3-2, staving off elimination in the process. Coupled with his 42-save performance for a victory in Game 1, Radomsky had been forced to make 99 saves in the two games his team has won. Without those herculean efforts, this series would have been over long ago.
“We definitely had opportunities, but we just couldn’t find the right spot for the rebound, but we need to also go to the net with more of a purpose,” said Wolff the day after the Game 5 loss, when asked about the strong play of the Steinbach netminder.
The Stampeders were hoping to celebrate their first appearance in an MJHL final Saturday night in front of a season-high crowd of 808 fans. Instead the Pistons spoiled the party.
“We’ve got to find a way to solve Radomsky, and get some pucks and traffic his way,” said Wolff. “We need to generate more offense. We’re getting shots, but maybe it’s not the smart opportunity.
“And then on the defensive side we need to be a little sharper in our zone,” he added. “We need to make sure we’re shutting their top guys down.”
On Saturday, Riley Vautour proved to be a thorn in the side of the Stampeders once again as he scored twice for the Pistons, including the eventual game-winner late in the second period. The former Waywayseecappo Wolverine had five goals in these playoffs, four coming in Swan River.
After Vautour opened the scoring 14:19 into the game, local product Josh Tripp almost immediately tied the game with his eighth of the playoff 16 seconds after the game’s first goal.
But the Pistons would regain the lead for good late in the frame. With John Jebamani off for tripping, Steinbach’s Tyson McConnell scored on the power-play to make the score 2-1. His goal came just seven seconds after the power-play started, and with just 56 seconds left in the frame.
Likewise, Vautour’s second of the game came with just 49 seconds left in the second period, lifting Steinbach to a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Swan Valley would respond midway through the final period as Tripp scored his ninth goal of the playoffs (he has nothing but goals these playoffs) to cut the lead 3-2. Tripp went high short side to get the tally, one of Radomsky’s few mistakes in the game.
But though the Stampeders pressed, the Pistons would only bend, not break. Steinbach iced the puck several times, had Radomsky scrambled to cover any loose picks, and did all they could to stay alive. They fended off 17 of 18 shots in period to do just that.
Merek Pipes ended up with 28 saves in another solid effort for the Stamps.
On special teams, the Pistons were 1-for-2, while the Stampeders went 0-for-5.
Stampeders 6, Pistons 3
Stampeders 4, Pistons 2
While the three games in Swan Valley have been tight, one-goal contests, the two games down in Steinbach saw much more offense – and penalties. The Pistons were especially undisciplined in their own barn and it cost them, as they lost both games on home ice to fall behind 3-1 in the series.
In Game 4, they ran up a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes, and then traded goals with the Pistons in the third period to skate to a 4-2 victory.
Three of Swan Valley’s six goals came via the power play, and two of those came off the stick of Tripp, who had goals in three straight games.
Campbell Balk had three helpers to lead the team in points. The other four goals came off the sticks of Alexander Uryga, Matthew Osadick, Tucker Scantlebury, and Bradly Goethals.
The Pistons got goals from Jack Kilroy, Declan Graham, and a late meaningless goal from Kyle Bettens in the final minute of the game to make the score look closer than it was.
The game also featured a rare playoff fight as tempers really started to boil over. Steinbach’s Vautour and Swan Valley’s Troy Quinn danced midway through the third period right after Osadick made the score 6-2.
Pipes won his third straight game with a 27 save performance. Radomsky made 42 saves while taking the loss in another game where he was under siege all night.
The Pistons also had a decent night on the power-play, going 2-for-6. But one of those goals was Bettens’ late marker when the game was out of reach.
In the pivotal Game 3, Swan Valley jumped out to a 4-0 lead after 40 minutes, and then held on for a bit of a nail biter 4-2 victory.
Swan Valley was up 3-0 before the end of the first thanks to goals by Tripp, Scantlebury and Kasyn Kruse, and they made it 4-0 midway through the second period as Matthew Osadick scored his fourth of the post season (with local product Carter Cockburn getting his first MJHL playoff point in the process).
The Stamps, though, did appear a bit nervous in the third period, thanks in large part to Nicholas Labossiere coming down the wing and squeezing one past Pipes to cut the lead to 4-1 just 21 seconds into the period. Things got even more interesting when Steinbach’s Brendon Martin scored at the 10:26 mark to cut the lead to 4-2.
But the Pistons were also extremely undisciplined in this affair. They took two double minors in the second period. Carter Loney was assessed a major for hitting from behind soon after the Pistons got their first goal. And with the game 4-2 Tanner Mole took an incredibly undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone while his team was on the power-play and the puck nowhere near them.
Staying out of the box has been something the Stampeders coaching staff has been stressing this series.
“And even if they don’t score on that power play, the opposition can take momentum off of it,” said Wolff. “We’ve got to do our best to keep staying out of the penalty box.”
All that helped the Stampeders hold on for the win, despite only going 2-for-12 on the man advantage. Of course it’s tough for the opponent to come back when they’re shorthanded for more than third of the game. The Pistons were 0-for-2 on the man advantage.
Pipes ended up with 26 saves for the win, while Radomsky made 35 to take the loss.
STAMPS STUFF – It’s now the Stampeders versus the Portage Terriers. A schedule for this meeting of the top two seeds will be released this week. “They’re a good team – they have a strong offense, good defense, and a strong goaltender,” noted Wolff. “They’re a well-balanced team, and it’s going to be a battle. We’re excited.” … In six games in the semifinal the home team only won once. “It’s been kind of weird that way,” noted Wolff. “Maybe being away from home and all the distractions, it’s a little easier on the guys.” … Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray was in the crowd watching Game 3 in Steinbach.

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Derek Holtom
REPORTER
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