Story Courtesy River Foster (Portageonline.com)
The Portage Terriers are advancing to the second round of the MJHL playoffs. The Terriers ended the Niverville Nighthawks’ inaugural season in Game 5 with a 5-1 victory at the Dog Pound.
The Terriers completely controlled the first period, out-shooting Niverville 16-3, however, the first major chance didn’t come until halfway through the frame.
Brenden Holba bent over and stretched out his stick to break up a pass in the defensive zone. Noah Wagner snatched the loose puck and created a 2-on-1 rush. Wagner made the pass over to Brock MacDonald, who had a point-blank chance but was denied by Nighthawks’ goalie Chris Fines. Brett Magarrell rushed in for the rebound but tapped the puck wide of the net.
With under five minutes to go in the first, Hayden Lacquette made a slap-pass that went across the blue line to Kian Calder. Holba circled around the boards to the high slot and received the puck from Calder with a plethora of space. He went blocker side for his second goal of the playoffs and put the Terriers up 1-0, which is a lead they held into the first intermission.
Midway through the second, with dying seconds in a Terrier power-play, Tayem Gislason found Austin McLean cutting through the neutral zone with speed. McLean split the defenders, went to his backhand, and put it top shelf. 2-0 Portage.
“I’d say I do have a pretty good backhand,” McLean said post-game.
A few minutes later, the Terriers were able to extend their lead. Lacquette drove the puck wide and took a shape-angle shot but was stopped. MacDonald scooped up the rebound at the side of the net and quickly went to the other side from the wrap-around and put it into a wide-open cage.
The Dogs went to the locker room up 3-0 with 20 minutes to go.
The Nighthawks showed some fight early in the third as Evan Bortis took a point shot through traffic that went bar down and trimmed the Dogs’ lead to just two.
Unfortunately for Niverville, this is as close as they would come. Ten minutes later, Calder kept the puck in the offensive zone and fired a shot toward the net. It was tipped by McLean for his second goal of the night and second of the postseason.
Brett Magarrell added his second in as many nights a few minutes later to make it 5-1. The two late goals, combined with some solid goaltending from Jayden Catellier, sealed the deal for the Terriers and sent the Terrier fans home with a smile on their face.
With this win, the Terriers became the first MJHL team to move on to the second round of the playoffs. Forward Austin McLean says the entire team was pumped up.
“It’s amazing. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in the playoffs with COVID, and last year we didn’t make the playoffs. So, it’s a great feeling making it past the first round.”
After letting in the opening goal in the first four games of this series, McLean talks about how important their defence was in this one, especially early on.
“We knew we wanted to close it out tonight. We played one of our better games this series, and it showed on the scoreboard with the biggest lead we had all series,” McLean explains. “All around, it was a good game from all the guys.”
The Dogs will now have a full week off before Game 1 of the second round, which will go down next Friday at Stride Place. McLean outlines their plan until then.
“We’re taking a few days off because it was a rough series, and guys are banged up. We’ll get back to work Monday and start grinding again.”
McLean gives credit to Niverville for making it a very hard-fought series. The Terriers will play the lowest-ranked team remaining in round two, which will be the winner between the Virden Oil Capitals and OCN Blizzard unless the Dauphin Kings win their first-round series.
Whoever the Terriers take on, Stride Place will be the host for Game 1 on Friday, April 7.