Selkirk Steelers goaltender Hayden Dola keeps his focus on the puck at the team’s home game against the OCN Blizzard March 3. (Submitted Photo by River City Photography)
A night of excitement, celebration and memories ultimately ended in disappointment for the Selkirk Steelers Friday night.
The local Junior ‘A’ club lost to the visiting OCN Blizzard 3-2 in front of a packed house of 1,220 hockey fans in a game with big playoff implications. With the win, the Blizzard moved into a tie with the Steelers for third place in the league with each team having 81 points. The Blizzard then clinched third place with a point in an overtime loss to the Steinbach Pistons on Saturday night.
The Steelers came out ready to play as Cole McCartan tallied just 1:04 into the game to give the home team the early lead. Assisting on the goal were Jake Dudar and Mark Wilson. Dudar made it 2-0 for the Steelers later in the first after a great feed from Dallas Starodub. Carter Barley drew the secondary assist. OCN’s George King cut the Steelers’ lead in half with a goal 17:10 into the middle frame.
Brady Keeper tied the game midway through the third, and his brother Anthony put OCN ahead 3-2 with less than 5 minutes to play in the game.
Brett Epp picked up his 25th win of the season for OCN, while Selkirk’s Hayden Dola made 18 saves in the loss.
Prior to the game, the Steelers honoured the 2006-07 Anavet Cup-winning Steelers, with former head coach Keith Cassidy in attendance. Joining Cassidy were ten former Steelers who played on that Cup-winning team, including former captain Andrew Fernandez, 58-goal scorer Jason Frykas and hometown boy Evan Walsh, who was the hero in the fourth overtime in Game 7 of the Anavet Cup Final against the Humboldt Broncos.
The Steelers finished the 2006-07 campaign with an incredible 49-9-4-1 record in the regular season before cruising through the playoffs en route to an MJHL championship. Following winning the MJHL’s Turnbull Cup, the Steelers engaged in a tough, back and forth series with Saskatchewan’s Humboldt Broncos. The seventh and deciding game of the series was played in Selkirk and much like the series was close and gruelling. With the game into the fourth overtime, and the time well past midnight, Evan Walsh one-timed a pass from Jason Frykas on the powerplay to earn Selkirk the Anavet Cup. The win advanced the Steelers to the RBC Cup, a tournament played to determine the Canadian Junior ‘A’ champion.
The Steelers also boasted four players who scored more than 100 points that year, an especially incredible feat considering that Portage’s Jeremy Leipsic was the only player to reach triple-digit point totals this year. Howarth brothers Kyle and Brent led the way with 141 and 131 points respectively, while Adam Sergerie led the team with 64 goals and 125 points in 56 games. Jason Frykas was the last of the bunch to hit 100, finishing the year with 119 points. Professional hockey player and current Tulsa Oiler Adam Pleskach also started his junior career with the Steelers that year, putting up 62 points in 63 games.
Meanwhile, the current batch of Steelers will begin a best-of-7 series with the defending Turnbull Cup champion Portage Terriers in the first round of the MJHL playoffs on March 10 in Selkirk. The fourth seeded Steelers finished the year with a 39-18-3 record and will have home ice advantage over the fifth seeded Terriers.
Current Steelers broadcaster Mike Gerl expects a tough, close series. “Portage are the two-time defending league champs (and) Selkirk hasn’t won many games in recent years. Could go either way in six or seven games.” Gerl said recently. With scoring champion Jeremy Leipsic in the lineup, Gerl believes that the series could possibly be a high-scoring one. Gerl also emphasized the importance of attendance at Steeler games. “(Attendance) is very important. Junior teams in general need community support. I feel the players build off of a loud crowd.”
In other MJHL playoff series, the Steinbach Pistons play the Neepawa Natives, the Winkler Flyers face the Virden Oil Capitals and the OCN Blizzard duke it out with the Winnipeg Blues. All playoff series are slated to start March 10.