By Joshua Boyd / USPHLNCDC.com
South Shore Kings (2) vs. Twin City Thunder (4)
All games played at Foxboro Sports Center
Game 1: Friday, March 24, 7 p.m. EST
Game 2: Saturday, March 25, 7 p.m. EST
Game 3: Sunday, March 26, 7 p.m. EST (if necessary)
Two more wins gets one of either the South Shore Kings or the Twin City Thunder into the Dineen Cup Finals. There is guaranteed to be a new champion this year after the two-time defending champion Jersey Hitmen were surprisingly defeated by the South No. 4 seed Mercer Chiefs last weekend.
Similarly, the No. 4 seed Thunder defeated the North No. 1 Northern Cyclones, winning two in a row and the last in overtime to advance out of a 2-1 series. The North No. 2 Kings also played a three-game series, winning Games 1 and 3 against the No. 3 New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, who captured Game 2 in overtime.
“Overall, it was a hard-fought series from both sides,” said the Kings’ first-year Head Coach Tyler Holske. “We got off to a quick start in Game 1 Friday night. Our power play came through in big moments in all three games.”
The Kings are indeed first in power play percentage among remaining teams at 40 percent (4-for-10) in the playoffs.
“I thought our guys did a really good job committing to defense first, which led to quick stops and more time with the puck in the offensive zone,” said Holske. “We had contributions from all four lines which is very important if you want to have success in the postseason.”
“The Cyclones series was intense and it had the feel of an old school playoff series,” said the Thunder’s fourth-year Head Coach and Co-Owner Dan Hodge. “There was some great goaltending and intense plays. The Thunder and Cyclones are fierce rivals and that was on full display in that series. I have all the respect in the world for coach Flanagan and his staff – you know any team they coach will play hard and fast.”
Indeed, the Cyclones peppered the Thunder with shots – 44 per game on average, but not just one but two Thunder goaltenders stood tall in the series. Christopher Jackson is third in playoff save percentage at .938 – and creasemate Trey Miller is only fractionally behind at .936, the only two teammates in the top five for that category.
“Our goaltending has been excellent all season,” said Hodge. “Trey and Chris give us the chance to win every night. Both of them have played excellent and have won games this postseason. Jackson played really well vs the Advantage and helped us in the OT win against the Advantage. Miller was really good in both of his wins versus the Cyclones including being in net for the series-clinching game.”
Goals could be at a real premium between the Thunder and Kings, as the leading goaltender in goals against average (1.54) is the NCDC veteran in net for South Shore, Jacob Torgner.
“Jacob has been a rock for us. Our guys have a ton of confidence in him,” said Holske. “He is so consistent. He knows how to manage the game. He came up with some timely saves for us throughout the weekend when the score was close.”
Of course, goals do have to be scored for teams to win hockey games, and both squads had plenty of depth in scoring. The Kings, for instance, had players at all positions contributing – including their leading scorer, defenseman Jack Barbro. He currently has a 4-3-7 line to rank second in the league playoff scoring race to the Thunder’s Trace Norwell (4-4-8).
“Jack Barbro was the best player on the ice in Game 3. He factored in on all five of our goals but really took over the game in the second period of Game 3,” said Holske. “Logan Ganz really stepped up for us in Game 1. He scored two big goals. I thought his speed was a big factor. I am very pleased with his progress. Aiden Lindley also had a monster weekend for us. Aiden is a player that plays in all situations for us. He factored in on a few goals in Game 1 and Game 2 and then scored two huge goals for us in the second period of Game 3. I was very pleased with the line of Ganz, Karim Gayfullin and Lindley. They brought a ton of energy and came up with some big-time goals throughout the weekend. Torgner made some timely saves for us.”
Norwell not only ranks first in playoff scoring, but ranked in a tie for fourth in goals with 26 in the regular season. He is the Thunder’s all-time leading scorer at 82 points in the regular season and nine career points in the postseason.
“Trace Norwell and Tristan Rand continue to have great postseasons,” said Coach Hodge. “Norwell scored a great goal, batting the puck out of the air for a goal in Game 3 off a Rand shot, so they are definitely contributing offensively. Nolan Leonard had a great Game 3 as well, scoring a goal and adding an assist on the series winning goal by Patrick Last. It’s great to have different players contribute on different nights. We are a deep team and when one line or group of players are not scoring we have other players to pick up the slack.”
The Kings and Thunder ended the regular season against each other, playing to a 5-2 Kings win on March 13. That gave the Kings a 5-1-0-0 regular season series record this year, and the Thunder closed out at 1-5-0-0. However, with both teams standing at 2-1 going into the North Finals, their success since March 13 is all that matters right now.
“We have had some really good games with the Thunder over the last three years. Dan Hodge is a great coach. His players play really hard and know how to defend. For us, it will be important to play a disciplined game,” said Holske. “Our games this season have all been close. I expect a tight series.”
That March 13 showdown will certainly come in handy with scouting for both sides.
“The Kings got the best of us in the season series. We did play them in the last game of the regular season so we will use that video as a reference and prepare the best way we can,” said Hodge. “The Kings are a well coached team who play fast and can score quickly. Their defense can push the puck and their forwards can move the puck around the sheet very well. We will need to be disciplined in our systems and do our best to limit their power play chances. We certainly respect their team speed and play-making ability. We are definitely looking forward to a great series this weekend in Foxboro.”