The Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats will return to action this week when they open the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs against the Battleford Sharks.
The Wildcats enter the playoffs on a tear after winning 11 of their 12 games in 2019.
“We wanted to make sure we got that home-ice advantage in the first round and we got that,” said longtime head coach Terry Pavely, who added that if there is an upset in the opening round they could have home-ice in the second round as well. “We’re really happy with the way we played in the second half and excited to get playoffs going and we think we’ll be in the mix at the end of the year.”
Pavely said the turning point for the Wildcats was a humbling 9-1 loss in Prince Albert on Nov. 25.
“From that point on we knew we would have success in the second half and that’s what happened. I thought we had a few bumps along the road in the second half where we didn’t play our best. But for the most part we were good day-in, day-out. That’s how you want to play heading into the playoffs.”
The third-place Wildcats (15-10-2-1) finished 17 points ahead of the sixth-seeded Sharks (7-13-4-4) to set up the first playoff meeting between the two teams in a decade.
The Sharks are led by top-10 league scorers Madison Sansom and Ali Aitken, who each finished with 32 points this season.
“They compete well and they work hard. They can score as their top line is pretty potent with Aitken and the [Brooklyn] Rowley kid on it. We are going to have to make sure that we defend well. We are going to make sure, especially on home ice, that we match up. If we play the right way and we play in the offensive zone we think that we should have some success,” said Pavely.
The Wildcats won all four head-to-head meetings with the Sharks, who feature Haylie Biever in goal after stopping 681 shots this season, second most in the SFMAAAHL.
The Wildcats are led by league scoring champion Taylor Lind, who topped all players with 29 goals and 31 assists in 28 games. Sara Kendall tied for ninth with 32 points and Carissa Hogan was also in the top 20 with 25 points.
“It’s going to be tough. They have good goaltending. They have a couple lines that are pretty good up front. They struggled a little bit defensively throughout the year, but I’m anticipating they’ll clamp down and be a little tougher to play defensively in the playoffs. We’re going to have to be ready to go each game and make sure we bring our best effort. I think if we compete and are willing to play defense first, we’ve got a lot of offensive skill. We get good scoring opportunities and we have a knack around the net, so as long as we’re getting to the net and are willing to pay the price to get there then we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win hockey games,” said Pavely.
The Wildcats were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs last season, but made it to the second round the previous season.
“We’re an older team and we’ve got a lot of older kids that have had opportunities to play in those situations before. You hope that bodes well for us. It’s a different level and the intensity is ramped up. It’s a little harder to score. It’s harder to do things. But when you have experienced kids, and we have a lot of veteran kids that have played either with us or with other teams in the playoffs, we think that’s a good sign for us and hopefully that little bit more maturity and experience from runs in the playoffs helps us out this year.”
The best-of-five series opens on Thursday at 7:45 p.m. at Fairview West Arena. Game two will be Friday in the Battlefords. Game three will be Sunday at 2 p.m. back in Swift Current. Game four, if necessary, will be Tuesday in Battlefords, followed by game five in Swift Current on Thursday at 7:45 p.m.