PENHOLD — The RDC Kings went into the Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League playoffs with a lot of confidence after sweeping their final two regular season games from the second-place Augustana Vikings.
That confidence carried over to the playoffs as the Kings beat the SAIT Trojans 6-1 in the opening game of the best-of-three ACAC quarter-final series before a near full house at the Penhold Regional Multiplex Friday.
“Those last couple of games against Augustana were huge,” said Kings veteran forward Mike Marianchuk. “It showed that we have the team that can go all the way.”
Kings head coach Trevor Keeper agreed.
“It was the first time all season we were healthy and we had a lot of options, getting the guys in the right positions,” he said. “As well we mixed up our lines a couple of weeks ago and you can see the chemistry. We’re playing our best hockey of the season.”
Marianchuk, Jody Sick and Nick Fountain are one of the units put together and they look like they’ve been together all season.
“You could call them our fourth line, but really they’re not. We don’t expect a lot of scoring from them, but they’ve been providing it. They work hard and forecheck hard.”
“There has been automatic chemistry since the mix-up in the lines,” said Marianchuk, who had a goal and an assist Friday. “Everyone is feeding off each other.”
Marianchuk set up the Kings first goal by defenceman Kirk Johnson, whose screened point shot snuck under SAIT starting goaltender Austin Smith.
‘That goal was huge,” said Marianchuk. “Everyone is waiting for that first one and when we got it it gives everyone a lift and we feed off that.”
There was a the odd time when the Trojans controlled the play, but overall the Kings were the better team.
“We got off to a good start … we weren’t nervous or anxious, just hungry and wanted to get going,” said Keeper.
The Kings blew the game open early in the second period with Tyler Berkholtz connecting at 1:39, Connor Hartley at 3:16 and Marianchuk at 7:57.
Hartley’s goal could have been the goal of the night as he finished off a great passing play with Pat Martens and Dylan Thudium with a perfect shot high to Smith’s stick side.
The Trojans got a small boost in confidence with Riley Paterson scored at 14:04 of the second period. However, the Kings put the game away in the third period when Logan Sceviour scored at 13:05 and Martens at 14:39 against Bolton Pouliot, who came in following the fourth RDC goal.
Close to half the Kings roster are in their third season and making their third playoff appearance. That’s a definite asset, says Marianchuk.
“The core of the team have been through it twice before and know what it takes to go deep in the playoffs,” he said. “We also realize that in a three-game series you need to get it done. Everyone knows what to expect from everyone else, and the team.”
One of the strengths of the Kings is their team speed.
“We’re a fast team and we have to rely on that and stay away from some of the stuff they’re trying to get us into,” said Marianchuk. “We have to use our speed … that’s the key to the series.”
One of the veterans is goaltender Mike Salmon, who finished with 29 saves.
“Mike battled hard and was focused,” said Keeper. “He made the second and even third save and was smart playing the puck on dump ins. That’s what we needed.”
The Kings also killed off five penalties.
“Our penalty kill has been good. We have six forwards we use and they take a lot of pride in it,” said Keeper.
Smith faced 16 shots while Pouliot, a former Red Deer Rebel, faced 14.
The teams meet again tonight at 7 p.m. at SAIT. If a third game is necessary it goes Sunday at 7 p.m. in Penhold.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.