For the third straight year, the CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins season has come to an end in the conference semi-final round.
The Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs in a 6-3 road loss to the Yorkton Terriers on March 16. Yorkton won the best-of-seven Sherwood Conference semi-final series in five games.
The Terriers outscored the Bruins 2-1 in each period of Game 5. Estevan stormed the Terriers in the first period, outshooting Yorkton 21-6, but still trailed by a goal. Calder Neufeld had the Bruins' tally.
“We had very good opportunities and lots of pressure,” said head coach/GM Keith Cassidy. “I think their goaltender stood tall for them, and really kept them in that game, because if we would have capitalized, we would have been out front by quite a bit.
“It was a situation where we had the opportunity to hem them in their zone for long periods of time, and we did just that. We put the puck on net, and we attacked the net for rebounds.”
Estevan was down 3-2 at one point in the second period. Zach Douglas had the Bruins' goal. But by the midway point of the third, the Terriers had built a 5-2 advantage. The Bruins pulled to within two goals on Neufeld's second of the game, but an empty net goal for Yorkton dashed the Bruins' hopes of a miraculous comeback.
“I was very happy with the effort,” said Cassidy. “I can't take anything from them on that. I think, as it was in the 2-1 games, a bounce here and there, and it's a different story.”
Patrick Martens had a hat trick for Yorkton in Game 5, giving him seven goals in the series.
Curtis Martinu was in goal for Estevan. He played in all nine playoff games for the Black and Gold in the post-season.
Two nights earlier, the Bruins' season was put on the brink in a 2-1 loss to Yorkton. Wyatt Garagan had the Bruins' lone goal, a marker in the third that tied the game. But Yorkton would get the game-winner with about six minutes to play in the third, and then they prevented the Bruins from getting quality scoring chances in the final few minutes.
Everybody was disappointed with how soon the season ended, Cassidy said.
“We fought through some different rounds of adversity this year, and I think it made us a stronger group in the end,” said Cassidy. “But we dug ourselves such a hole (in the regular season), and we wound up coming up against a pretty good hockey club in that round of the playoffs.”
The series loss ended the junior careers for seven members of the Bruins: Martinu, defenceman/captain Connor Milligan, and forwards Neufeld, Alex Cote, Cole Olson, Tyler Paslawski and Dylan Smith. Cassidy lauded the contributions that each player made for the Bruins this season, regardless of whether they were with the team throughout the season, or if they joined the Bruins midway through the campaign.
Cassidy remains optimistic about the talent that the Bruins have returning next season.
“There are a lot of guys for whom this playoff series punched them right in the face,” said Cassidy. “It was something that, when you look at it, one or two bounces, and it's 3-1 the other way. I think the realization that they're that close to being that good is something that is going to gnaw at a few of them over the summer, and it certainly will for myself.”
Cassidy and assistant coach Cole Zahn met with all the players on March 18, and Cassidy said the players who are eligible to return next season are also excited about next year's team.
Up next for the team will be their annual spring camp in April. The team's top prospects will be showcasing their skills for the Bruins staff and scouts.