Athletics continue NPHL playoffs Tuesday night in Fort St. John, locals lead series 2-1

Grande Prairie Athletics goalie Kiefer Smiley makes a save during the third period of Saturday night’s North Peace Hockey League playoff game at the Coca-Cola Centre. The A’s picked up a 4-1 win over the Fort St. John Flyers to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Tuesday night in Fort St. John. Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald Tribune

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The Grande Prairie Athletics and the Fort St. John (FSJ) Flyers continue their North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) opening round best-of-seven series with Game 4 set for Tuesday night in Fort St. John.

Courtesy of a 4-1 home win on Saturday night, the Athletics took a 2-1 series lead into a game that will either have a series all squared a two-apiece or the Athletics with a massive 3-1 advantage heading for Game 5, set for Thursday night at the Coca-Cola Centre. Puck drop is 8:30 p.m.

The last time the Athletics made the trip west to B.C. was last Thursday night. The club was assessed 11 minors in the game, seven in the second period alone. Even though the A’s led 3-2 after 40 minutes, a four-goal outbreak by the Flyers propelled them to the win.

“Last game in their rink, we got carried away with the referees and focused on things we couldn’t control,” Athletics forward Blake Clement said. “We focused too much on that and that kind of killed us. We just have to go in there knowing we can win a hockey game, we can be physical and not worry about what we can’t control.”

”[We have to] maintain our focus and be as disciplined as we can and we’ll be fine,” Athletics Head Coach Wayne Labrie added. “Regardless of who wins this series, somebody has to win in the other teams barn. Hopefully, it’s Tuesday night [for us].”

And while the games are hotly contested on the ice, the A’s maintain it’s a competitive fair series thus far.
“It’s good, hard hockey and both teams are playing hard,” Clement said.

“We’re playing a disciplined team who is very composed and that’s something we have to be,” Labrie said. “It’s not a dirty series. It’s a physical series. It’s clean hockey and it’s fast-[paced]. You have to come ready. This series is probably going to be tougher than the next series, for whoever wins [this one].”

As mentioned, the A’s picked up a three-goal win on Saturday night.

“I think it was a great effort after our last game,” Clement said. “We were disappointed with the outcome [on Thursday] because we only worked hard for 40 minutes. On Saturday, we came out and we were strong right from the get-go. We played a good team game, we were physical, skating [well]and throwing pucks on net. We deserved that win.”

Athletics keeper Kiefer Smiley was sharp in the net for the homeside. He made several key saves in the third period when the club broke defensively. Smiley made 37 stops.

[Smiley] made some big saves for us [on Saturday] and he’s been doing that all year,” Clement said while noting the No. 1 was disappointed with his performance in Game 3. “We’ve relied on him heavily. He was his old shelf and he played great.”

“[Smiley] made several key stops at key points in the game but offensively and defensively, I thought we were a lot better,” Labrie said. “When you get four lines, and the momentum shift by shift, I thought we came in waves and that’s a difficult thing to do against a good team. It was a tough battle through 40 minutes and right down to the final buzzer. I thought it was a great hockey game.”

Morgan Maclean, Mark Stojan, Clement and Lyndin Lewis scored for the Athletics.

Adam Horst scored for the visitors while Travis McLean turned aside 28 shots in the loss. Horst also scored three goals in the Flyers win last Thursday night.

Trudeau all in to win

The Grande Prairie Athletics and Fort St. John Flyers continue their North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) opening round series Tuesday night in B.C.

With the locals up 2-1 in the series, A’s President Maurice Trudeau is quietly confident about this years version of the squad.

A few weeks ago, Trudeau said he was ‘in it to win it,’ or words to that effect.

“[It goes back to] the commitment from the players and the coaching staff, everything around the team,” Trudeau said. “From the little tiny things like sock tape, all the way up to getting a win in front of the home town crowd, there’s so much in between that goes on and this is the year we want to do it.”

While it’s just not the president doing all the work, Trudeau spends a lot of time around the edges of this club, making sure they want for nothing but wins. From food, drinks and snacks, it’s all there for them.

“What do we need to do for this squad to give them the best we can to make sure things are there for them,” Trudeau said. “When they get on the ice, everything is going to be there for them, so they can concentrate on what they have to do on the ice.”

While the club hasn’t spent any more money than in previous years, there are noticeable changes with the team, which gets back to the original reason why Trudeau does all this work in the first place.

“We have a roster of 28 guys and that’s a good problem to have,” Trudeau said. “It’s nice to have that selection. Last year, we were scrambling to get 16-18 guys on a road trip. Sometimes there were 10-14 guys on a trip. To have healthy scratches is a huge strength.”