Their playoff motto is Outwork, Outwill, Outsmart and that’s exactly what the Kindersley Klippers did to the Notre Dame Hounds.
The Klippers wrapped up a four-game sweep of the Hounds Wednesday in Eston with a 4-1 victory, earning a trip to the Sherwood Conference final and a lengthy break while six other teams finish their quarterfinal series.
“We outworked them. We outwilled them. We wanted to win more than they did,” said right winger Taylor Duzan, who scored twice Wednesday, including an empty-netter to clinch the series.
“The more we hit them, the more we outworked them, the madder they got and they weren’t able to capitalize on opportunities. It really helped with the hard work we had. We just shut them down. They didn’t want to outwork us.”
The Klippers will face either the Weyburn Red Wings or Yorkton Terriers in the conference final beginning next weekend. The upstart Terriers lead that series 3-1. If they hang on, the series starts Saturday in Eston. If the Wings come back, it begins Friday in Weyburn.
“I feel confident that whoever we play, we can beat them,” said goalie Josh Thorimbert. “If we keep up the way we’ve been playing now, we’ll give teams a good run for their money.”
In the Bauer Conference, La Ronge leads Flin Flon 3-1 and Battlefords is ahead of Melfort 2-1.
The Hounds, who finished two points ahead of Kindersley in the regular season, had nothing left Wednesday after losing the two previous games late in the third period.
An unlikely source of offence in Riley Down got the scoring started less than nine minutes in when he crashed the net, fought off two defenders and whacked a garbage goal past Matthew Smidt, who started for the first time in the series.
Some fans weren’t even in their seats yet when the Klippers put the series away early in the second period. Duzan bulged the twine 55 seconds in and Andrew Dommett scored 20 seconds later to put the brooms at the Eston Complex on standby.
“We broke their will,” said head coach Larry Wintoneak. “You could see it in the second period when we scored those two quick ones. That was a big part of the game. Even though they did score a goal (late in the second), we knew we were in full control of the hockey game.”
Rosetown’s A-Jay Moore put a puck past Thorimbert with 1:15 left in the frame, but Notre Dame had nothing left to make a comeback, as they had in Game 3 after falling behind 4-0.
Duzan hit an empty net with 1:08 remaining and soon the Klipper bench was spilling onto the ice in joy.
“We took it to them. Everyone contributed. Everyone was sacrificing their bodies, putting it all on the line,” said Thorimbert, who rebounded from a shaky Game 3 and capped an excellent stretch of goaltending in his first SJHL playoff series.
“I know I didn’t have my best game (Tuesday). I knew coming here (for Game 4) that I had to be there for the guys and I wanted to be there. The guys helped too, they all blocked shots and were letting me see the puck, getting the lanes open, so I have to give a huge kudos to them too.
“I didn’t want to get myself too hyped up or too nervous,” added the 17-year-old. “I had butterflies all series, but I didn’t want to be sick to my stomach. I thought to myself, ‘Just keep playing the way I have all year and give the guys a chance to win.’”
On Tuesday, Kindersley took a 4-0 second period lead on goals by Jordon Hoffman, Duzan, Sanfred King and Kurt Leedahl, only to see it slip away as the Hounds made a concerted push to get back in the series.
Travis Janke and Patrick Thompson-Gale scored later in the second and two impressive goals by Thomas Williams in the third tied the game 4-4 with less than eight minutes left.
With the Hounds holding the momentum, Hoffman cemented an outstanding performance by slipping a shot under a scrambling Smidt with 4:57 to play.
Hoffman, Duzan and King put in a phenomenal final shift, shutting down six Notre Dame skaters over the final 20 seconds by blocking shots, clearing the zone with their hands and, in Duzan’s case, lunging head-first into an opponent’s skates in the dying seconds to block the puck from moving.
Duzan took a two-handed chop from Kyle Ireland across the back of the neck for his effort.
Wintoneak sees an unmistakable all-for-one mindset in his players.
“It’s hard to put it in words. The guys care about each other. They do,” he said. “The deeper you’re going into this thing, there’s a lot of sacrifices. As an athlete, there’s a lot of distractions in a playoff situation but the guys are really focused. I think that’s the strength of our leaders.”
The coach showed his club a video of Ted Lindsay showing the Detroit Red Wing great saying he “never cheated a fan, never cheated the organization.”
Winning the first two games in Wilcox, including King’s literally last-second winner in Game 2, was crucial to the sweep both on the scoreboard and in its effect on both teams’ psyches.
“I think once we got up 2-0, the guys did believe we could win four straight,” said Wintoneak. “You don’t flaunt that around, you don’t start chirping about that, but it’s a low roar in our room. The confidence was there. We knew if we worked hard we’d have success.”
Strong defensive play was another key to the series victory, including the unlikely pairing of Leedahl and Jordan Braid. All indications point to Braid staying on the blueline after moving back when the team had injury problems late in the regular season.
Wintoneak believes he’s getting more out of his captain now than when he played left wing.
“Point production wise, he was down, and I think he was disappointed in his play. As a coach, you have to find ways to get guys going, so we put him on the back end because he skates so well and he’s a bigger body who moves the puck well.”
The pairings of Steven Turner with David Ahl and John Sonntag with Sean Flanagan also did their part, especially in shutting down SJHL scoring leader Travis Janke.
The Klippers will enjoy a few days off before resuming practices on Sunday.
“We’re playing for a pennant now, for a banner, which is nice,” said Wintoneak. “We always said we wanted to play for something and now we’ll get to play for the Sherwood Conference title. It’s going to be exciting.”