The Bonnyville Pontiacs have punched their ticket to the second round of the AJHL playoffs.
Easton Hesse made 27 saves and Daine Dubois’ goal late in the first period stood up as the game-winner, as the Pontiacs swept the Whitecourt Wolverines in three games with a 3-1 win Sunday.
“With us, the number of penalties and not to get frustrated as we did in Game 2, those are the learning lessons that I’m glad we’re playing in the first round an didn’t have the bye. I think if we had started to face that adversity in Round 2 in spite of that five-game slide, we may not have been mentally prepared as we’re going to be now,” said Coach Rick Swan.
Grayson Constable cashed in on a big 5-on-3 powerplay chance in the first period to start the scoring for the Yaks, who trailed Whitecourt after Brayden Labant’s goal 1:37 into the contest.
Dubois’ scored his fourth goal of the postseason from Constable and Sean Thomson, and the Pontiacs held the lead the rest of the way.
“Our coaching philosophy is making sure we have depth heading into playoffs, is we know that if you rely on six guys, often with the tight checking, the defensive mindset that everyone’s got, if you don’t have more than six guys and they can’t get the job done, that can be the difference between getting the job done or not.
Marc Benoit added the final goal after the Wolverines took a rash of penalties in the final minutes.
Grayson Constable had seven points in the first round while linemate Daine Dubois had five points and two game-winning goals.
Swan says Constable is an MVP candidate
“Guys like Benoit, Constable, and Daine Dubois, they’re scoring 50 points on our team, but another team with a different philosophy of not utilizing the whole bench, they’d score 75 points plus.
“I think he’s [Constable] an MVP of the league. I think there’s not a player more dominant for 200 feet in our league, 100 percent. He’s a difference maker and just does everything right. I think that’s overshadowed by some of the other guys in our league who have higher points, and they automatically think he’s a more valuable player, but it’s not even close. To see him, in a tight-checking playoff series and earn everything you get and claw and scratch for success offensive, is it’s not a surprise for us.
“Daine Dubois, the same thing, he might be the most committed responsible 200-feet player I’ve ever coached. I just don’t understand why schools out there aren’t jumping on a guy like that. He just does everything right in practices and games. I think he’s going to be an elite player.”
Pontiacs have two confident goaltenders
Easton Hesse looked spectacular at times in his relief role.
Twice in the third period, the Wolverines mounted pressure for a comeback, but Hesse shut down those glorious chances and now has a win under his belt this postseason.
“I think he’s going to be an elite starting goaltender in this league,” said coach Rick Swan.
“I have no problem, we’ve never had that before where our coach is reserved, what happens if our number one goes down? I have no problem with him at all. I think that he’s a guy that’s more than capable. He maybe started out as a backup, but right now he’s got the right mindset and attitude. He just pushes and challenges Muiser which is great. I think everyone believes in both our guys.”
While the Pontiacs scored on their 5-on-3 opportunity, the Wolverines missed on their two-man advantage chance in the second period and went 0-7 on the powerplay.
Constable injury to be evaluated this week
Constable’s health is a minor concern moving forward after he took an elbow to the head from Brayden Labant late in the third period.
Constable left the ice, and a scrum ensued. Labant was given a minor for elbowing.
“When you’re playing a team like Whitecourt whose game revolves around getting us off our game and maybe being hard on our top players where they start to take liberties. In playoffs, if you respond back how you did in the regular season, you start to look at suspensions, and the only way you can respond is on the scoreboard. I know it was a late, high elbow and the referee’s called and looked after.
“But boy, you hate to see things like that, especially when it’s your top players or any players.”
Pontiacs this week
The Pontiacs tentatively begin the second round on Friday night at the RJ Lalonde against the Spruce Grove Saints.
The Pontiacs met yesterday and held an optional skate. The team will practice today, tomorrow, and Thursday for short, quick, practices to keep the team fresh heading into the second round.
This week the coaching staff will study the Spruce Grove Saints until they “know them inside and out.”
The Spruce Grove Saints defeated the Drayton Valley Thunder in four games.