Posted on March 14th, 2009

The NPHL Campbell Cup final is set, and will feature the Fort St. John Flyers against the Grande Prairie Athletics.

The Flyers finished the regular season with a 24-1-1 record, earning the Lawrence Cup, as regular season champs, and home ice throughout the playoffs. The Athetics finished right behind FSJ, with a second-best 20-4-1-1 record, and the third seed in the playoffs. The series will begin in Fort St. John on Saturday Mar. 14th, with a complete schedule below.

Grande Prairie is the only team to have beaten the Flyers this season, once on opening night (4-3 Oct. 30) in FSJ, and once in overtime (3-2 Jan. 29) in GP. “Grande Prairie’s going to be tough” says coach Adam Brash. “They’ve brought in some players, and they have confidence playing us because they beat us twice.” He also differentiates between the Athletics and the Rangers in their style of play. He points to Spirit River as an opportunistic team, relying on breakdowns and powerplays to outscore an opponent.

The Athletics, on the other hand, skate well, and push harder at an opponent. “They’ll come at you hard, and in waves” says Brash, noting their coaching staff will switch up their game plan based on in-game dynamics. “If we’re doing something well, he’ll (A’s coach) counter it,” something Brash says he doesn’t usually see in regular NPHL play. Flyers goalie Troy Hunt is excited for the opportunity at another competitive series. “Grande Prairie’s always good” Hunt says, adding “I think the one thing we’ll have in our favour is they haven’t been playing good hockey on the other side” referring to GP’s first two rounds, against High Prairie and Falher (both sweeps). [asset|aid=1086|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=55e97052c5a28874a550dee50439b504-hunt-finals_1_Pub.mp3]

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the Athletics game is the goaltending of David Larson, who has the ability to make miraculous saves, and steal games. They have a slightly more balanced attack than do the Rangers, as well as a quick transition game that has proven deadly in the NPHL this season.

Leading the way for Grande Prairie this season was Kelly McLeod, who scored 56 points (22+34) in 23 games in the regular season, and has 4 goals so far in the playoffs. Brenan Jones and Shane Mudryk lead the team in playoff goals with six apiece, including a hat-trick from Mudryk in GP’s 8-7 come-from-behind win in game 1 vs. Falher.

The Athletics play a speedy, disciplined brand of hockey, that has seen them win 14 straight games, including regular season and playoffs. The A’s haven’t lost since January 15th in Spirit River, and since then, they have beaten every tough team in the NPHL, including the Rangers, Flyers, Kings and Mustangs. But, after a bit of a lull late in the season, the Flyers seem to be peaking as well, at just the right time. The team played brilliantly in games one and five against Spirit River, and played badly only in game two, when they had only 11 skaters on the road. It’s been the Flyers’ goal to peak late in the season, as they look ahead to the MacKenzie Cup, and challenging matchups against Spirit River and Grande Prairie will only help forge an Allan Cup contender. Particularly impressive has been the play of the Flyers ‘kid line’ of Jeff Shipton, Jeff Fast, and Clayton Bahm.

The line was responsible for the double overtime winner against Spirit River in game 4, and has been put in key situations all season long, from the exhibition games against Stony Plain, to the NPHL playoffs so far. Coach Adam Brash has obviously been impressed with the three, and also the potential they show. “They’re three great hockey players, three great puck movers” Brash says. But, it’s not just for now. “They’re the future of the Flyers hockey team, they’re going to play a big part in our AAA level hockey” he adds, suggesting AAA opponents may key in on the top two lines, and leave the youngsters unguarded. “As long as their feet are moving, as long as they’re tough on the puck, they’re going to get the ice time.”

Hurting the Flyers will be the injury to NPHL MVP Kip Noble. The defenceman took a big hit from Ranger Mike Lefley at the end of the third period in game 4, and suffered a broken rib, separated shoulder, and collapsed lung. While he could still return for the McKenzie Cup (and potentially Allan Cup). “[Kip’s injury] will hurt us on the powerplay, and we’re going to find somebody who will step up in that area” said Adam Brash, alluding to Noble’s quarterbacking skills and wicked shot. But he says everyone is solid on the back end, and with six defencemen still healthy, the team isn’t panicking. It all points to an epic Campbell Cup finals, which suits both teams well, heading into their respective provincial tournaments. The schedule will be as follows:

Game 1 – Sat Mar 14 – 8:30 @ FSJ
Game 2 – Tues Mar 17 – 8:30 @ FSJ
Game 3 – Thurs Mar 19 – 8:30* @ GP
Game 4 – Sat Mar 21 – 8:30* @ GP
Game 5 – Sun Mar 22 – 7:30 @ Fort St. John – if necessary
Game 6 – Tues Mar 24 – 8:30* @ GP – if necessary
Game 7 – Tues Mar 31 – 8:30 @ Fort St. John – if necessary

* Games 3, 4, and 6 are in Grande Prairie. With GP on Mountain Standard Time, these games will start at 7:30 PST (FSJ time). Stay tuned for broadcast information, with Moose FM hoping to bring you all road games in the series.

** There is a week break between games 6 and 7 (if necessary), as the Athletics will represent the NPHL at AA provincials in Spirit River that week (the Rangers also qualify as hosts).