The Olds Grizzlys are distinct underdogs heading into tonight’s opening game of the best-of-seven Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division final with the host Brooks Bandits.
So what else is new? The Grizzlys were in the same position — albeit to a lesser degree — when they faced the Calgary Mustangs and the Okotoks Oilers earlier in the postseason, yet they’re still playing.
“That’s something that we’ve dealt with since we came back from the Christmas break,” Grizzlys head coach Brett Hopfe said of his club’s supposed disadvantaged status. “We were two points out of last place (in the South) and pretty much every game after Christmas was an underdog type of game, so that’s a role we’re comfortable with.
“Certainly we’re excited to be playing against a great team like Brooks. We’re excited about competing against the best.”
While the Grizzlys have played 10 post-season games during ‘upsets’ of the Mustangs and Oilers, who finished 20 and 23 points ahead of fifth-place Olds during the regular season, the Bandits have played just four — a semifinal sweep of the Calgary Mustangs after gaining a first-round bye as the top team in the South.
Lacombe native Cam Maclise is the Bandits’ top playoff scorer with four goals and seven points, while Colten Semenok (2-4) has six points and Dylan Nowakowski (0-5) and David Watt (0-5) have each produced five points for an explosive and deep squad that scored a league-high 131 goals during the regular season.
Olds finished a whopping 51 points back of Brooks this season.
Mitch Owsley (7-5) and Bart Moran (6-6) have paced the Grizzlys with 12 points apiece during the playoffs. Dylan Hubbs is close behind with 11 points (5-6), while Casey Rogers (2-6) and rugged Lucas Grundy have been keys on the blueline, although Grundy will miss the first three games of the series due to suspension.
“For sure, we’re playing our best hockey of the season,” said Hopfe. “The guys have bought into a team-style type of game. They’re sacrificing for each other in that dressing room.
“There are guys who don’t play every shift every night and guys who don’t play at all throughout a series, but they come to practice and they work hard. They’re dedicated to the team and what will happen if they sacrifice for their team, so I’m pretty proud of how they’re playing.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series goes Saturday at Brooks, with the third and fourth games set for Monday and Tuesday — 7:30 p.m. both nights — at the Olds Sports Complex.