The Highway No. 1 rivalry is renewed.
The Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks and Virden Oil Kings are meeting in the North Central Hockey League semifinals. Games between the two squads have been emotional, physical affairs at times. Last season the C-Hawks bested the Oil Kings, 3-0, in the playoffs. This year’s best-of-five series pits the NCHL’s second-best team in the regular season, the C-Hawks (15-1-0), against the third-place Oil Kings (11-3-2).
“I think that Miniota-Elkhorn is a very good team made up with some great players, which just brings up the intensity level,” Oil King Shane Keown said. “We have always had a rivalry with Elkhorn since our towns are so close, so having a ton of fans come out and support for both teams makes it an amazing experience every time we step on the ice against them. Can’t wait to play them.”
The series started on Tuesday in Virden after the Empire-Advance deadline. Game two was slated for Thursday in Elkhorn. Game three is Saturday in Elkhorn. If needed, game four would be March 1 in Virden with game five in Elkhorn on March 3.
“Virden is a very strong team, and are really explosive offensively,” C-Hawks coach Tyler Mitchell said. “They can score, and will score, in bunches if you let your guard down. It will be key for us defensively to take away their time and space through all three zones, not allowing them to wind up and use their deadly transition game.
“As for our side, we need to be relentless. We feel we have four forward lines that can match up with any other team's top line, and a defence core full of horses that can all log heavy and important minutes. If we can roll 12 forwards and 6 defence against their nine and four, we should see that pay off as the game and series wear on.”
In the other semi-final, top-seeded Russell meets Swan Valley. Russell swept Shoal Lake in the first round, while Swan Valley beat Moosomin 2-1.
Virden advanced to the NCHL semifinals by beating sixth-place Grandview, 2-0, in a first round, best of three series. In game one, the Oil Kings slipped by the host Comets by outscoring them 4-3 in the third period to win 5-4. Drake Bodie led the team with thee points, while Keown, Keifer Johnston, Montana Masson, and Tanner Lewis all had two each.
“I was pleased with the work put in by the guys. We had 11 players go up to Grandview so we were short benched but the guys that went got the job done,” said Oil King Cam Whyte.
In game two, in Virden, Grandview led 1-0 after the first period. Tanner Koroscil tied things up at 1-1 in the second for Virden. In the third period, Jason Verran put Virden on top, 2-1, but Grandview tied the score. Whyte scored the game-winner on the power play with 1:36 remaining.
“After a couple nice passes, I had the puck on my stick beside the net and was able to put it in,” he said.
The C-Hawks advanced to the semifinals after the seventh-place Foxwarren Falcons forfeited their first-round series before game two. Miniota-Elkhorn had won game one, 8-1, on the road. Shawn Bowles, Bradley Bowles, and Brad Cole each scored two goals and recorded three points in the game one rout.