The North Division Finals resume on Thursday night with the series shifting to Jamestown, NY and the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena for Game 3 at 7:00pm. Game 4, if necessary, would also be played in Jamestown on Friday, May 3rd at 7:00pm. Jamestown leads the best of 5 series, 2-0.
In what was a surprise to some, the Ironmen won the first two games of the series last weekend in the Soo. In Game 1, they did it with timely and effective scoring. The 6-3 win, marked only the fourth time all season that an opponent scored at least six goals against the Eagles. In Game 2, it was all defense and goaltending in a 1-0 shutout win. The shutout win also marked just the fourth time this season the Soo offense was blanked.
However, when taking an in-depth look into the series and why Jamestown won the first two games, it should not come as a huge surprise they are where they are right now. First, the Ironmen are a veteran team. They have 16 players on the current roster that are at least 20 years of age. They also are healthy and took full advantage of the bye week the first week in April. Having swept Kalamazoo in the Semi-Finals also helped because of the avoidance of going deep into a series.
But make no mistake, the Ironmen are where they are right now thanks in large part to goaltender Joe Ballmer. In any type of hockey playoffs, your goalie has to be your best player in order to be successful and survive the long haul, and Ballmer has been that and more for Jamestown. He currently leads the NAHL in playoff goaltending statistics with a perfect 5-0-0 record, 1.20 goals against average and a 96.3% save percentage. He is facing 31 shots per game in the playoffs, so he has had plenty of work to do.
The Jamestown offense has also come alive in the playoffs. The Ironmen are averaging a full goal per game more in the playoffs (3.8) than they did in the regular season (2.8). All that combined is why the Ironmen have yet to lose a game in this year’s playoffs and are just one game away from winning the North Division Finals.
Meanwhile, the Soo have a tall task in front of them. They will have to win three straight games, including two on the road in Jamestown, if they want to be the North representative at the Robertson Cup. It is big order, but one that has to be a step-by-step process, starting with Game 3 on Thursday. Expect nothing less than a low scoring, defensive battle featuring great goaltending, much like Game 2.
The Soo offense is down almost a half a goal per game in the playoffs compared to what they were doing in the regular season. Goaltender Tyler Marble, who led the league in save percentage during the regular season at 93.8%, is right there in the playoffs at 93%. Like the Ironmen, the Eagles should be well rested and healthy thanks to the bye in the first round and Semi-Final sweep of Port Huron.
When a team’s back is against the wall, it will be interesting to see how different players react. There are at least nine players on the Soo roster that know Thursday could be their final junior game if they were to lose. You have to believe that those nine along with the rest of the team are not ready for that to happen.
They say the clinching game of a series is the toughest to win, so Jamestown will have their hands full on Thursday, but they are at home and could not be in a better situation to win the North Finals and represent the division at the Robertson Cup.
Game 3 in the West and the Central Divisions takes place on Friday, May 3rd, and both series are tied 1-1.
The Amarillo Bulls won the South Finals on Tuesday night and will be the South Division representative at the Robertson Cup for the third straight season.