The Canalta Cup Finals will finally begin on Friday night between the Battlefords North Stars and Flin Flon Bombers.
It will be the first game in 10 days for the regular season champion North Stars and that's happened before, thanks to two consecutive sweeps.
The Bombers, meanwhile, are coming off a 3-0 shutout win in game seven over Nipawin on Tuesday night. Flin Flon came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games.
If one thing is certain, it's that the North Stars are anxious to get started after their long lay-off.
"We're just ready to go," said North Stars head coach Nate Bedford. "We're getting a little antsy...[so] I think it's a bit of a relief that we're going to get started here Friday. [There was] excitement whether it was Nipawin or Flin Flon. We were going to feel the same way."
Connor Sych said for the 14 returning players from last year's playoff loss to Flin Flon, it is a little nice to have an opportunity to get back at them, but he also agreed with Bedford that there would have been excitement either way.
"For the guys who have been here last year, we were pretty excited for the opportunity to get a little bit of revenge," Sych said. "But we've played every team well so far this season and I think even if it was Nipawin we'd be feeling good too. Just overall everyone is excited to play finally on Friday."
After the last 10-day lay-off, the North Stars put seven goals on the board in a 7-4 win over Estevan in game one. They scored three first period goals in that game and showed no signs of rust when they flew out of the gate.
North Stars forward Layne Young believes that will be key in the finals as well.
"Against Estevan, it really helped when we got on them quick, so I would say our starts will be a big key," he said. "We ned to keep our power play going, keep our feet moving, and just get pucks on net."
Because of what happened last year, Bedford also pointed out that the mental part of the game will be important for his club.
If they just focus on having fun and working on the things that have made them successful so far this season (57-9-1 record combined regular season and playoffs), they should be fine.
"If we're mentally thinking about what has happened in the past or what people are saying, I think we've already lost," Bedford said. "We need to relax and just play and have fun. I think that's the key.
"And I think our success has been that we play at a high pace and we play that way because we have four lines and 6 'D' that go every single night and we don't have guys sitting on the bench. We've got to continue that. Whatever we've been successful with to this point in the season, in the playoffs we've just got to stick with it."
Bedford did also admit the Bombers have a similarly deep roster.
They had seven players with 49 points or more in the regular season, while Battlefords had three. Flin Flon also led the league in goals for with 245.
The Bombers defence may not have had nearly as spectacular a season as the North Stars, who set a new record for fewest goals against with 103, but Flin Flon did allow the third-fewest goals against at 150.
"They have four lines that can play at all times," Bedford said. "They transition quick. You turn the puck over and they make you pay for it. I think they've got guys that if you give them scoring chances, they score. So you've got to make sure you don't make a ton of mistakes.
"If we minimize mistakes, we're going to be in a lot better shape."
It's extremely likely the series will go beyond four games for the first time in these playoffs for Battlefords.
It's also a near certainty the series will be a physical affair, as both teams like to use the body.
"They're an physical offensive type team and we're a physical defensive type team," Bedford said. "I'm excited to see who prevails. We're not scared of them and they're not scared of us. I think it's a great matchup for both teams.
"We just saw it with them coming back from 3-1. I don't think they're going to quit and we're certainly not going to quit. Whatever team gets down early or gets down first is going to do everything in their power to battle back. So I think it's going to be a great series."
"I'm very excited after last year for sure," Young added. "And [with] some of the comments that have been going around, I'm excited to get things going."
How they got here
North Stars: 4-0 sweep in quarter-finals over Weyburn (4-3 W, 8-3 W, 8-1 W, 4-3 W), 4-0 sweep in semifinals over Estevan (7-4 W, 5-1 W, 5-2 W, 6-1 W).
Bombers: 4-1 win in quarter-finals over Notre Dame (4-1 W, 4-1 W, 4-3 W, 7-4 L, 2-1 W), 4-3 win in semifinals over Nipawin (2-1 L, 3-2 L, 3-2 W, 4-1 L, 2-1 W, 5-1 W, 3-0 W).
Goals For: North Stars - 5.88 per game, Bombers 2.83 per game
Goals Against: Bombers - 2.0 per game, North Stars 2.25 per game
Penalty Minutes: North Stars - 22.34 per game, Bombers 23.75 per game
Regular season H2H
The regular season series favours the North Stars 3-1.
They won back-to-back games in Flin Flon on Oct. 7 and 8 by scores of 4-3, in a shootout, and 3-0. The clubs then split two games in December, with the North Stars falling 4-2 on Dec. 14 and then winning 3-2 on Dec. 16.
Power play in playoffs: North Stars 30.8 per cent (1st), Bombers 18.2 per cent (4th)
Regular season power play: Bombers 27.2 per cent (1st), North Stars: 22.8 per cent (2nd)
Penalty kill in playoffs: North Stars 93.8 per cent (1st), Bomber 85.4 per cent (4th)
Regular season penalty kill: North Stars 89.1 per cent (1st), Bombers 84.9 per cent (2nd)
Joel Gryzbowski: 2-0, 2.00 goals-against-average, .932 save percentage
Taryn Kotchorek: 6-0, 2.37 goals-against-average, .907 save percentage
Brenden Newton: 3-1, 1.14 goals-against-average, .965 save percentage, one shutout
Zac Robidoux: 5-3, 2.51 goals-against-average, .905 save percentage
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