Norsemen Harvest Wheat Kings in Round 2by Matt MacInnis | May 15, 2017, 1:31 PM ET
Thanks to an unexpectedly hot backup goalie and general ingenuity, the Vancouver Island Norsemen have advanced to the Canadian Conference Finals.
For just the third time in franchise history, the Victoria-based club will have an opportunity to earn a place in the Continental Cup Finals. But in there way, a Calgary Mustangs team that took four of five regular season games between the teams.
The Norsemen ended the Brandon Wheat Kings season with a five-game series, culminating in a 2-0 shutout victory, only the second playoff shutout in franchise history. Although it was a relatively brief series, it was a difficult one, with two of the Norsemen’s wins being single-goal victories.
The Norsemen were down a number of key defencemen throughout the series, with Duncan Keith, Ryan Ellis and Dalton Prout all unavailable. The team was forced to get creative, utilizing Adam Pelech (who had 0 SICHL games experience), Alex Grant (who hadn’t played in the SICHL since 2013-14), and Jan Hejda (a UFA who spent the entire season on the sideline), and Eric Nystrom (a forward) at different times on the blueline.
Without doubt though, the biggest story of the series was between the pipes. Head Coach Chris Pronger shocked the world when he started Joonas Korpisalo in the first game of the series. The move paid off, and the team went up 1-0 in the series. However, with Korpisalo fatigued following his 32-save effort, the team went back to regular season starter Jonathan Quick in the second game – which they lost. It was Korpisalo the rest of the way, as he earned all four wins in the series. Korpisalo heads into the third round with a 4-0-1 record (he took the L in an overtime round one game he entered after Quick was ejected) and a sparking .955 save percentage. The team has not stated who will start game 1 against the Mustangs.
The other big surprise was the performance of William Karlsson, who drew in on the fourth line when Nystrom was moved to defence. Karlsson, who was acquired at the deadline last season, had a disappointing 2016-17 campaign with a minus-10 rating in 56 games. However, he’s accumulated 3 assists and a plus-two in three playoff games.
Reinforcements are arriving as well for the Norsemen. Ellis is fully back to health and available for game 1. Keith is expected to return as early as game 3.
The team will need to figure out how to solve Ben Bishop if they hope to get beyond the Mustangs. The rangy netminder has great numbers this playoffs, including 1.53 GAA and .942 save percentage.