ESTEVAN - The Estevan Bruins are heading to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League final.
Estevan trounced the Yorkton Terriers 7-2 Thursday night in Yorkton to sweep the best-of-seven SJHL semifinal series in four games. As of press time, their opponent had yet to be determined. The Flin Flon Bombers had a 3-1 series lead on the Humboldt Broncos, and Game 5 was slated for Tuesday night in Humboldt.
The Bruins will be in the league final for the second time in five seasons, having last appeared in 2018, and are seeking their first SJHL championship since 1999.
Keagon Little opened the scoring 3:20 into the first period of Game 4. Eric Pearce doubled the advantage during a Bruins’ 5-on-3 power play less than two minutes later, and Olivier Pouliot scored at the 8:06 mark of the opening frame for a 3-0 margin.
“Our 20-year-olds were exceptional last night, right from Boston [goaltender Boston Bilous] on out,” said head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic the day after Game 4. “I thought we were just really hungry to end that series.”
Mikol Sartor notched the Bruins’ fourth goal with 3:36 to play in the first period.
“It’s always nice to jump out and get a lead like that in an elimination game. Definitely, it takes the stress off of you,” said Tatarnic.
Yorkton had a two-man advantage of their own for 29 seconds late in the first period, but didn’t score.
Caelan Fitzpatrick and Kade Runke scored for the Bruins in the second period.
Terriers' captain Kishaun Gervais put his team on the board with less than nine minutes to play in the third period, but just over a minute later, Bruins' captain Eric Houk replied for Estevan.
Colby Vranai finished the scoring for Yorkton with 22 seconds to play in the game.
Bilous stopped all 30 shots he faced for Estevan. Cam Hrdlicka came in midway through the third period in an effort to get Hrdlicka some playing time, and allowed two goals on four shots.
“Boston’s been great. Any good scoring chance, he’s been there to answer the bell. He only let in six goals in the series, and he did a great job for us.”
Kael DePape made 10 saves on 15 shots for Yorkton and was replaced by Tresor Wotton, who made 16 saves on 18 shots.
Estevan has outscored their opponents 15-3 in the two games they have had the opportunity to clinch.
“We set goals this year, and right now we’re in the process of trying to achieve our goal of winning a league championship. So when it’s an elimination game, our guys are hungry. They want to achieve that goal and they know the other team is trying to survive. Whoever wants it the most is going to succeed,” said Tatarnic.
Two nights earlier, the Bruins rallied to defeat the Terriers 2-1 in Game 3, also in Yorkton. Eric Pearce and Mikol Sartor scored seven minutes apart in the third period.
The two teams were scoreless after the first period. Former Bruin Erik Boers opened the scoring for Yorkton on a power play at the 6:33 mark of the middle frame. Both teams had quality chances to score after that goal, including a 2-on-0 breakaway for the Terriers, but they couldn't beat Bilous.
Pearce scored a power-play goal 8:07 into the third period to tie the game. Then Sartor tallied with 4:53 to play in the third to put the Bruins in the lead.
Bilous stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced for the Bruins. Kael DePape made 23 saves on 25 shots for Yorkton.
“Give Yorkton credit, they worked really hard that first 30 minutes,” said Tatarnic. “It wasn’t our best 30 minutes, but we managed the game and didn’t panic. I thought we had a really good last 10 minutes in the second period and that carried through. I thought if we could keep them at 1-0 we’d have a chance to win that hockey game.”
The puck was bouncing around throughout the contest, making it difficult for the Bruins’ skilled players to generate scoring chances. The ice conditions were better for Game 4.
“I’ve never seen a puck bounce around so much in my lifetime in a game,” said Tatarnic. “It’s tough to generate anything when that puck’s bouncing around, but you have to fight through it and find a way.”
The Bruins have now won a season-high eight straight games.
The league final is slated to begin in Estevan on April 22, which means the Bruins will have 15 days off between Game 4 against Yorkton and Game 1 of the championship series. Tatarnic said he is pleased to get the break, because some players have been battling a stomach flu.
He expects the players will be back on the ice this week.
This will be the Bruins’ fourth two-week break of the season.
“The games are usually so tight and close together, the guys are just so banged up. It’s just a war of attrition. Having this time off allows guys to heal and get rested up, and you can play good hockey,” said Tatarnic.