Impressive play-off run
Garden Valley Collegiate
By Brendan Neufeld (Grade 12)
The Garden Valley Collegiate Zodiacs finished the regular season with a 10-9-3 record. This performance was good enough to land them in second place in the South Division, but it was 14 points behind the first place Morden Mohawks.
The Zodiacs then faced a much-improved Pembina Tigers team in the first round. The series proved to be wide-open hockey, but stellar goal tending in both ends of the rink kept the series upbeat and intense. Jason Dyck backstopped the Zodiacs and the all-star game MVP, Alan Livingstone, was between the pipes for the Tigers.
Home ice was a huge asset in this series, with the home team winning each game. The Zodiacs proved to be the better team, taking the third and deciding game 5-3 at home. It was then off to Morden where the Zodiacs opened their series against their arch rival, the Mohawks.
Game One displayed some quick back-and-forth action. The Mohawks drew first blood, but the Zodiacs did not take too long to respond, scoring two quick goals of their own. A goal with one second left in the second period gave the Zodiacs a two goal lead going into the third. That did not prove to be a momentum booster as the Mohawks tied up the contest, five minutes into the period.
Then speedy Zodiac, Jon Froese slipped past a Mohawk defenseman and put the puck past Morden's Tim Hoeshen to regain the Zodiac's lead. Only four minutes and 32 seconds later, Mohawk captain, Mike Loewen set up linemate Andrew Stewart, who then beat Dyck to tie the game. The Zodiacs big line of Jeremy Bergen, Dwight Heppner and Brendan Neufeld combined on a magnificent play, which ended with Heppner undressing the Morden goaltender. Some superb Zodiac penalty killing and timely saves by Dyck kept the Mohawks off the scoreboard for the rest of the game giving the Zodiacs a 5-4 win.
"We knew game one would be a battle, since it was a huge game," said Heppner.
The play of the third period was carried by the Zodiacs top two lines. "Late in the regular season, our big line did a lot of scoring. It's nice that things clicked for our line as well," said Tim Friesen, Zodiacs second-line center.
Winkler was the site of Game Two. With a huge crowd behind the Zodiacs, they were able to score an early goal, which set the tone for the rest of the first period. A very disciplined Zodiac team displayed great sportsmanship and were rewarded with three powerplays throughout the second period. However, they only managed to score one goal, as Morden countered with two of their own, tying up the contest as the teams headed into the third.
With their backs against the wall, the talented Morden squad came out flying, dominating the first half of the period. Dyck kept the Zodiacs in the game, with frequent saves. However the Mohawks were able to put one by him. Not even two minutes later, Zodiacs leading scorer, Jeremy Bergen found the back of the Morden goal, tying up the game at three.
With 7:38 left to play, big tough Zodiac defenseman, Kevin Ginter, broke the three-all tie, with a coast-to-coast rush, beating Morden goaltender Tim Hoeshen. With the Mohawks pressing and Hoeshen on the bench, Zodiac captain, Brendan Neufeld, intercepted a pass and found the empty net to secure the victory.
The South Division champions then were at home to a very quick and strong Carman team, who just placed forth at the Manitoba High School Athletics Association's 'AAAA' Hockey Championships. The Zodiacs did not prove to be a match for the Cougars and were disposed handily, 9-3. Game Two turned out to be the same story, with the Cougars dominating at both ends of the rink and owning the game.
In front of their home crowd the Cougars claimed the Zone IV Hockey banner, downing the Zodiacs 8-3.
"It was really nice to make it this far, but it sure would have been nice for this to have worked out in our favor. I'm really proud of my guys though and wish the veterans all the best," said Maurice Neufeld, the head coach of the Zodiacs.