It’s playoff time in NB/PEI Major U-18 AAA Hockey League.
The 1st round match ups might be the exact same as a year ago, but those rivalries will be heated nonetheless.
A Provincial championship and a birth at the Atlantic Championships in Fredericton are on the line.
A Ton of Hockey, But There’s Nothing Like the Playoffs
The overall caliber of play in the league this season has been extraordinary, it’s only going to get better as the playoffs are set to begin.
Playoff time provides scouts with another excellent opportunity to see which players will excel under the circumstances and play some of their best hockey of the season. It’s a massive understatement but these young players have played a lot of hockey this season, especially those that just finished playing for their provinces at the Canada Games. It’s going to be hard to imagine how much they have left in the tank after such an intense and condensed schedule at the Canada Games.
How much more do they have to give? The rigors of any season can be daunting, but throw in the QMJHL Cup, plus the Canada Games, that’s a lot of hockey. Nevertheless, the playoffs can reveal a lot about a player’s character and resiliency.
There were some memorable individual and team performances throughout the season, but it’s the team that will come together and play as a cohesive unit and brand of hockey that will ultimately represent their province during Atlantic’s and perhaps beyond.
The allure of playing for a National Championship is definitely fuel to the fire, it might be too early to mention that, but there’s some returning guys from the Flyers that would love to claim it in back-to-back years. You see anything can happen in the playoffs.
The first step on what every team hopes to be a championship journey starts this week.
Playoff time provides scouts with even more intel on players and how they handle high pressure situations. Speaking of pressure, one could only imagine what draft eligible players have experienced this season. Playing to their identity, enjoying and embracing the process is extremely difficult especially come playoff time. The draft seems so far away, but yet so close for so many of these players and their families. Obviously, right now the playoffs should be the only thing on the players mind, but the draft pressure is even more magnified than before. Every player handles the pressures differently, but at the end of the day hopefully every player going through the pressure cooker is still having fun playing the game they love.
Wild Vs Knights
From an Island perspective the Wild will have their hands full and are probably hoping some of their players with injuries will be ready to go against a very heavy and skilled team in the Knights. Similar to last year the Wild will need to bring their skating game and play a discipline tight checking in your face brand of hockey which will take the Knights time and space away which will in turn potentially cause them some issues. The Knights transition the puck very well so the Wild will have to do the job on the forecheck if they want to slow down their vaunted attack. The Wild will need to be very opportunistic offensively and try to pounce on any turnovers generated by their strong forecheck.
The Knights will have to stay discipline. Charlottetown love to play a hardnosed in your face gritty game at times that costs you penalties. The Wild will have capitalize on a lot of their chances on the man advantage to be successful. Anything is possible in the playoffs, if the Wild come out and play with tons of desperation they will give the Knights a tough challenge.
Moose Vs Flyers
Obviously, the Moncton Flyers aren’t as deep as they were last year, but they are definitely playing some of their best hockey of the season coming into the playoffs. The Northern Moose will also have their hands full dealing with the Flyers depth. The Herd will have to get great netminding which they have had throughout the year to really push the Flyers. Northern have more speed and grit up front than last year and if they decide to play a chip and chase game and couple that with a solid forecheck they could give the Flyers some issues. Any skilled team doesn’t like having their time and space taken away. The Moose can play a real tight checking game and if they can cut down or limit the Flyers transition or odd man rushes they could definitely make things challenging. The Flyers young talent have progressed incredibly well this season. The Flyers will look to play fast and try to transition the puck with precision and try to generate as many shots as they can off the rush. Their cycle game is really strong as well. If the Moose don’t lock things down and possess a solid defensive structure, they will give up a lot of chances, because Moncton hunt pucks on the forecheck extremely well while generating a ton of goals.
Caps vs Vito’s
Perhaps the most intriguing 1st round series yet again this year will be Fredericton and Saint John. Like last year this series will be physical, both teams like to hit and play a heavy style of game. Obviously, on paper the Vito’s may have the deeper of teams, but paper doesn’t mean anything come playoff time. This series will come down to puck management, handling the physicality, defensive structure.
The team that manages the puck the best and brings their skating game will win the series. The Caps are deeper up front than last year skill and have a solid defensive corps. The Vito’s will look to apply a strong forecheck presence and try to generate as many turnovers as possible.
Both teams will come out hitting hard, but at the end of the day the team that controls their emotions and sticks to their structure while moving the puck effectively and efficiently will prevail. Both the Caps and Vito’s are very dangerous teams when they stick to their structure and team systems. Goaltending isn’t going to be an issue for both clubs, they have had solid netminding all season long which is fantastic to see. Every netminder in this series can steal a game which only adds to the excitement of this series.
If you haven’t been able to get out to the rinks across NB or PEI or are unfamiliar with this league and brand of hockey now is the time to get out and support the teams and they certainly deserve it.