By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Sunday night’s regular season finale wasn’t the game outcome the Morinville Jets were hoping for, but it was the regular season finish they’d been building towards all season long. Despite being beaten 4-2 by the visiting Beverly Warriors, the Jets ended the 2011-2012 CJHL regular season with a first place finish in the West Division, a position that not only gives them a first round bye but also home-ice advantage heading into round 2.
Jets Head Coach Scott Rodda was disappointed with the game but pleased with the regular season finish. “We didn’t play as good as we could,” Rodda said after Sunday’s game. “Give them [the Warriors] credit. They needed to win to get the bye, so they played real hard. We didn’t have our A game. Maybe we took for granted that the worst we could do is be second. We played a decent game – not playoff hockey. I’m a bit disappointed, but the bottom line is it’s the highest finish ever for the Jets – first place. I’ve got to feel good about that.”
For the Warriors, Sunday night’s win put them one point ahead of the Spruce Grove Regals, dropping the Regals to third place in the West Division and throwing them head first into round one of playoffs.
Those same two points put the Warriors and Jets in a dead tie for first with 51 points apiece and a mirror image 24-11-3 record this season. With the two clubs evenly positioned, first place was determined by the two club’s season history together. That past contact heading into the Feb. 12 contest was 14-8 in the Jets favour. As such, the Warriors needed to win by six goals to knock the Jets out of the top slot.
Two minutes into the final frame and it looked like the Warriors might just be able to pull it off. Building from a 1-0 lead at the end of the first, the Warriors pushed on to a 2-0 lead to end the middle frame. The Warriors third goal put them within tangible reach of a first place finish; however, Keegan Arcand provided the Jets with their only two goals Sunday night, knocking the Warriors away from taking the top slot. The 4-2 Warrior victory resulted in the two clubs four-game tally adding up to 16-12 in the Jets’ favour.
Despite the close finish between the two clubs and the realization that early season games sometimes come back to matter in a big way at the end of the season, Rodda said he is pleased with how the club did during the regular season. “We had 11 rookies this year,” he said. “If you asked me at the beginning of the year if we would finish first, I would have said that was our goal. With that many rookies, I was a bit worried about it. But overall, I’m pleased. We have a good squad of 23 guys. Real good, close-knit group. Hard working kids.”
One of the hardest working of those 23 players is Dalen Paul. The Alexander resident and Jet veteran ended the season with the most goals of any player in the Capital Junior Hockey League. Paul’s 40 goals is something that Rodda is proud of.
“I’m glad to see that,” Rodda said of Paul’s first-place finish. “Fourth year player – to win the most goals in a season is a real feather in his cap. He deserves it. He’s played well for us.”
Round one of CJHL playoffs are set to begin this Friday. West Division series pit the St. Albert Merchants against the Edmonton Mustangs, and the Spruce Grove Regals against the North Edmonton Red Wings. East Division series will see the Beaumont Chiefs against the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks and the Edmonton Royals against the Strathcona Bruins. The Sherwood Park Knights and Wetaskiwin Icemen both got first round byes in the East. Done for the season are the Leduc Riggers and Stony Plain Flyers who finished seventh in their respective divisions.
The Jets will enter round 2 around Feb. 24.