PORT AUX BASQUES It’s not uncommon in sports sometimes to get that feeling of just wanting the regular season to end so the playoffs can begin.
Apparently, executive members behind the Central/West Junior Hockey League have been there.
With about a month left to the 2012-13 campaign, it was decided Wednesday night the remaining games on tap would be wiped out, with the post-season officially getting underway this weekend, beginning with the opening two games of a best-of-five semifinal series between the Port aux Basques Junior Mariners and Stephenville Junior Jets.
The move was made partly because there wasn’t going to be a change in the final standings and also due to the upcoming Veitch Memorial provincial junior B hockey championship tournament in Stephenville at the beginning of April, which organizers were worried could overlap with the league playoffs if weather became an issue on a few of the remaining weekends.
That would obviously throw a wrench in the Veitch, since the tournament is supposed to feature the west coast league champion, the St. John’s Junior Hockey League champion and the host Stephenville Junior Jets. If the Jets happened to win the west, the runner-up would also be slotted into the three-team provincial playoff.
At 13-3, the Bishop’s Falls Express earned a bye, leaving the 3-13 Jets to battle the 7-6 Mariners in the semifinal series. The Mariners are fresh off sweeping the Jets in a two-game set last weekend, so the experience-laden Port aux Basques contingent — featuring a half-dozen players who won the league title last year with the now-defunct Humber Valley Red Wings — are a confident crowd.
“(The Jets) have a young team and we’ve got a vet team,” said Mariners coach Mark Lawrence. “To me, that should show through in the first round. It’s time for the veterans to really lead the way.”
Lawrence admits the Jets’ goaltending is a strength, but it’s forward Josh White who will be the key to the series — either way.
“If you shut him down, you should win the series against them,” Lawrence said. “But shutting him down will take a team effort. Not just one guy is going to do that.
“Josh White can score 10 goals on you in a game if you let him be,” he added. “If everyone’s not doing their little assignments on the ice, he will burn you every time.”
With all three teams making the playoffs, the do-or-die mentality suddenly needed now to compete may not come easy, but Lawrence said it will certainly be necessary to succeed.
“The regular season, yes it means something, but you always have the chance to play the next day,” he said. “Now you don’t.
“It can get sticky for you real quick.”
That’s what Jets coach Ron Dobbin is hoping for.
His team has an opportunity to put the pressure on the Mariners immediately with one win during the two games this weekend in Port aux Basques. That would subsequently give the Jets the chance to wrap up the series on home ice when the series resumes for Games 3 and 4 on the weekend of Feb. 23-24.
“If we can take one of those two this weekend, we’ll be very hard to beat going back to Stephenville,” Dobbin said. “We’ve got the goaltending, we’ve got the defence and we obviously have the scoring power — everything’s there.”
Or, at least, that’s what he’s hoping. The Jets were buoyed by an influx of talent two weekends ago during an impressive split against Bishop’s Falls, but many of those players couldn’t make it last weekend during the two losses against the Mariners.
“The key this week will be able to pull all the guys together,” Dobbin admitted. “If we can bring them all in from wherever we have them, I think we’ll do just fine.”
Dobbin is aware the Mariners boast more playoff experience than his club, even at full-strength, but expects the Jets to be firing on all cylinders in an effort to truly earn their place in the Veitch tournament on their home ice, instead of limping in as a defeated host squad.
“They’ve got a good hockey team, no question,” he said. “But if we can hold our composure for 60 minutes — even last Sunday we were up 5-2 before we ran out of gas — it’s anybody’s game.”
The Mariners and Jets face off for Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at the Bruce II Sports Centre, with Game 2 going ahead 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the same venue.