Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Batch's Breakdown: Fred Page Cup Final vs. Penticton

The Surrey Eagles advanced to their fourth Fred Page Cup Final in team history after a four game sweep of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the Coastal Conference Final. Heading into the championship series against the Penticton Vees, the Birds were 3-0 in the BCHL Final after wins in 1997, 1998 and 2005.

Friday, April 12th - Game 1

After a nine day layoff, the Eagles opened the final with a 5-2 win on home ice. Penticton had a strong start and took the lead early, but Michael Stenerson equalized for Surrey with a shorthanded goal before the end of the first, and the Birds made the Vees pay for some penalty trouble in the second as Surrey scored two goals while on five-on-three power plays before cruising to the win in the third.

Saturday, April 13th - Game 2

Michael Santaguida was the story of Game 2. The Surrey goaltender was sensational, stopping all 50 shots he faced in a 2-0 shutout win. Many of Santaguida's stops were absolutely remarkable, most notably a goal line save on Brad McClure with the paddle of his goal stick. Demico Hannoun scored on the power play for Surrey while Nic Pierog tallied an even strength marker.

Monday, April 15th - Game 3

Penticton bounced back with a strong effort at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Game 3. McClure scored twice on a couple of big league wrist shots for the home team while Pierog and Brady Shaw had Surrey goals, leaving the game knotted at 2-2 after 40 minutes. Cody DePourcq scored the winner midway through the third on a two-on-one to give the Vees their first win of the series.

Tuesday, April 16th - Game 4

The fourth game in the series was a cagey affair as both sides played a disciplined defensive game. The opening goal didn't come until late in the second period when AP Anthony Brito beat Penticton goalie Chad Katunar to give Surrey the lead heading into the third, but the Vees responded with three goals in the final frame from Wade Murphy, Ryan Gropp and Jedd Soleway en route to a 3-2 win. Pierog scored for the fourth straight game in a losing cause for Surrey.

Thursday, April 18th - Game 5

The swing game in the series was another chess match. Penticton drew first blood when Travis Blanleil found the back of the net on a one-timer with 2.9 seconds remaining in the first, and the Vees maintained the 1-0 lead throughout the second. In danger of going down in the series, the Birds found a tying goal in the third after Trevor Cameron scored on a wraparound while Katunar was caught out of the net. The game needed OT, but Kevan Kilistoff provided the heroics for Surrey with his second of the playoffs to give the Birds a 3-2 lead in the series.

Sunday, April 21st - Game 6

Game 6 was an instant classic, and one of the best hockey games I've ever had the pleasure of taking in live. Brett Mulcahy scored for Surrey less than two minutes into the first, and the Eagles carried the one goal lead into the third period. Louie Nanne tied the game with his first goal of the series, but the Birds regained the upper hand shortly afterwards when Shaw scored on a man advantage. Late in the third, the Vees pulled the goalie and got an equalizer with 27 seconds left as Michael Rebry tipped a point shot past Santaguida to send the game to OT. Though there were countless chances in the first overtime, the goaltenders stood on their heads to keep the score tied. Adam Tambellini netted the championship winning goal for Surrey early in double overtime on a one-timed shot in front of the net, lifting the Eagles to their fourth Fred Page Cup.

Positives from the Series

The Eagles defeated one of the best teams in Canada. Simple as that. The Vees are an amazing group and gave the Birds all they could handle in the final, but Surrey came out on the other side. The Eagles are now a perfect 4-0 in Fred Page Cup Finals, and a team that battled hard all season long was able to celebrate a championship that is incredibly well deserved.

The Eagles' power play was hugely important in the series, particularly in the first two games when they scored three goals while up by two men. Surrey's penalty kill was even better, holding one of the league's best power plays to three goals on 20 opportunities.

While I could pick out any number of individual performances for the Eagles in this series, a couple stood out to me in particular. First, Nic Pierog. This kid proved to be clutch again -- just like he was against Alberni -- scoring a goal in every one of the first four games of the final and bringing his work boots every single night. 

I was also impressed by defenceman Matt Dawson. The 16-year-old AP from the Delta Ice Hawks looked like a seasoned veteran at times, making calm puck decisions while under some heavy pressure. Expect him to be a high-end BCHL blue liner within the next couple of years. 

Michael Stenerson continued his strong play and finished atop the BCHL's playoff scoring list with eight goals and 12 assists in 17 games, and captain Brett Mulcahy was an absolute warrior, particularly in Game 6 when he scored a goal and got down to block a number of shots at critical times, putting his body on the line.

And as always, Michael Santaguida was spectacular. He is -- without a doubt -- Surrey's Playoff MVP to this point. His shutout performance in Game 2 is one that I won't soon forget, and his effort in the OT periods in Game 6 was nothing short of heroic. 

Negatives from the Series

You don't nitpick too much when you win a championship, so I'll only mention a couple of things in this section.

Firstly, turnovers. The games that Surrey lost were due to costly turnovers and mental mistakes in the third period. Now that the Birds are heading to the Western Canada Cup where they could face single game elimination scenarios, errors like the ones we saw in Games 3 and 4 against Penticton could mean the difference between moving on and going home.

Secondly, and finally, the Birds gave up another shorthanded goal in this series. I harped on it after the Conference Final, but it can't be emphasized enough -- you can't concede goals while you're on the power play. Luckily for the Eagles, there hasn't been a trend there as shorthanded goals against have been few and far between.

Eagles Goal of the Series

Adam Tambellini's OT Winner in Game 6. Watch it here.

Eagles Save of the Series

Michael Santaguida's Stop on Brad McClure in Game 2. Watch it here.

3 Stars of the Series:
1. Michael Santaguida
2. Nic Pierog
3. Michael Stenerson

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