PREVIEW: The Great Danes are in cloud 9 – hosting the conference finals!! They face the Toledo Walleye in an unlikely match up based on last year’s standings – both teams went from worst to first in their divisions this year. But it’s also a marquee matchup of the two top teams in the west, with LA and Toledo having outstanding regular seasons with 117 and 115 points respectively.
GAME #1:




The crowd is energized, barking and howling for the Danes in their first-ever conference final game. But Toledo is the team to start fast, with 5 chances in the first 6 minutes, and they open the scoring on a Cernak goal just 2:43 in. But Sasha Barkov (who bears a striking resemblance to team mascot Scooby-Doo) ties the game out of nowhere on a low % shot not even counted as a scoring chance. The Danes then realized they had a lineup mishap with Kapanen and Giroux flipped on lines 3 and 4 by accident. Ater it was corrected, Kapanen gives LA the lead at 16:26. But a Hintz penalty, a lost draw by faceoff guru Giroux, and Jason Robertson converts the PPG and we end the 1st period tied at 2-2. Statistically it was Toledo’s period, outshooting LA 17-8 and outchancing them 9-3.

Maybe it was the line mixup in period 1, but the Danes look like a different team in period 2. The Danes fail to convert on an early power play, but a couple of chances and a post hit by Steven Kampfer on the PP enable to Danes to gain the momentum and keep Toledo at bay – shots 4-1 LA through 10 minutes. Then late in the period, the Danes’ 3rd line has a dominating shift – back to back deflections by Nikolaj Ehlers missed the next, but the forecheck is relentless and Kapanen nets his second goal of the night at 18:59. LA takes the 3-2 lead into the 3rd.

Play is fairly even in the 3rd, with 2 more goal posts hit by LA (Giroux and Kapanen) being the closest near misses. Things then get a bit crazy in the final minute. Toledo has a faceoff in LA’s defensive zone with 1:02 left, and here’s the short-version of the play-by-play highlights.

Toledo wins the draw, Robertson SC, hits Pulock, Keith shot saved by Varlamov with 48 sec’s left.
LA wins the draw, Scheifele to Pulock to Heiskanen, who shoots at the open net – GOAL! 4-2 LA with 40 sec’s left
Trocheck wins the draw to Yandle, wrist shot deflected by Trocheck – GOAL with 35 secs left! 4-3 LA
LA wins the draw, Pulock shoots at empty net, icing, 31 secs left
Toledo wins draw, Trocheck to Roberston, save by Varlamov, Heiskanen shoots towards empty net, wide, another icing with 18 secs left.
Barkov wins the draw, to Scheifele to Nylander – GOAL, Nylander’s first of the playoffs 5-3 LA with 14 secs left.
2 more faceoffs wins by LA and another icing after that and it’s finally over! The Danes hang on for the 5-3 win. It seemed like the clock moved in slow motion that final minute, but it finally was over!

Kapanen with 2G is the #1 star – after 7 goals in the regular season mainly as a 4th liner, Kapanen with 3 goals in 5 playoff games. Linemates Ehler and Krejci with 2 assists each lead to a big night for the Danes’ 3rd line. Heiskanen with 1G-1A, and Scheifele with 3 assists are the other stars.

GAME #2:




Both teams make a change in net for game 2, Calvin Petersen for Toledo and Igor Shesterkin for LA, with Igor coming off a shutout win in his MWHL playoff debut in round 1 to close out the Alamo series.

As with game 1, an early goal, this time from LA’s Brock Boeser at 1:37. The Danes don’t stop there, and Barkov scores at 4:01 to make it 2-0 LA. But Toledo scores on their first 2 scoring chances of the game 1:32 apart (Saad and van Riemsdyk) and it’s suddenly tied at 2-2 9 minutes in. Between the 2 teams, 5 chances/4 goals, leaving both coaches questioning their goalie switches for game 2. Then at 14:21, LA gets a goal from their 4th line, Yanni Gourde netting his 3rd of the playoffs. So LA has a 3-2 lead after one, with shots even at 13 apiece.

In the second period, the scoring barrage continues. 16 seconds in Lindell hits the post, 1 minute in Bailey hits the post, and at 2:04 Hoffman beats Shesterkin and hits the back of the net and we are tied at 3. And believe it or not, about 1 1/2 minutes later, Muzzin beats Shesterkin but it hits the post – 3 posts by Toledo and one goal less than 4 minutes into period 2. It does not take long for LA to respond, with Brock Boeser netting his second goal of the game at 4:39 on a delayed penalty. And then we see 3 more goals in the span of less than a minute. LA scores 2 goals 16 seconds apart by Nylander and Giroux at 7:13 and 7:29, followed by a Toledo goal by Robertson at 8:01. As we check the scoreboard to keep track of what’s happened, it’s now 6-4 LA – 10 total goals and we have not reached the halfway point. Toledo takes their first penalty of the game, and LA continues the attack and scores on their 4th chance of the power play, with the Great Dane from Denmark Nikolaj Ehlers getting the goal to extend the lead to 7-4 at 10:37 – 11 goals as we barely pass the halfway point.

Things finally settle down and it stays at 7-4 when David Krejci takes a penalty late in the period. 4 scoring chances by Toledo on the power play, but Shesterkin saves them all and we head to the 3rd with LA up 7-4.

Another Krejci penalty early in the 3rd gives the Walleye another shot at getting back in the game, but only one shot on the power play, and LA is able to slow the pace down after that, and Roope Hintz’s goal off the rush at 14:28 takes away any doubts that LA can close the game out. Hintz’s goal makes it 8-4, and we end that way.

It was a night to pad the offensive stats, especially on the LA side, as 9 Danes have multi-point nights, led by Boeser with 2G-1A and Hintz with 1G-2A. James van Riemsdyk with 2 goals for Toledo is the 3rd star. Although LA gave up 4 goals, the D core had a big night with 7 assists, and all 18 blocks by LA came from the D core, led by Pelech and Pulock with 5 each.

WEEKLY SUMMARY: Could not ask for more from the Danes, as they take a 2-0 series lead and are now 6-0 in the playoffs so far. But now they will face a huge challenge on the road against a desperate Toledo team that we know won’t go quietly. The Danes have been a strong road team this season, so we’ll see if they can sneak away with a win on the road as the series shifts to Toledo.
 PREVIEW: 2 thumpings down in the Bayou have the Walleye bruised and battered, but not like a cooked fish kind of batter. We are not done yet. Time to round up the wagons and do something to stop the scoring machine that the Great Danes have become.
GAME #3:




Expectation up for a sellout crowd. 5 minutes in, the edge is off, when Scheifele draws first blood with his 3rd goal of the playoffs. LA 1-0. But a nice quick response from the fish with a Robertson goal, now tied at 1 with 12 minutes to go. Schiefele strikes again just a couple minutes later, and the Walleye are looking for some kind of defense to show up. Both goalies hold firm the rest of the period. 2-1 LA.

A Muzzin tripping penalty creates what the Danes wanted, and Heiskanen is all over it. His 2nd goal of the playoffs puts LA up now 2. As the Walleye question their sanity, Nurse scores within a minute and we are in a very unhappy arena. LA up 4-1 only 26 minutes into this game. Aggressive changes by the Walleye stop the bleeding, and near halftime they cut the lead to 2 with a goal by Arvidsson. Hopes rising, for about …….. 5 minutes, and then the barn door falls down, as Gourde gets the lead back up to 5 with his 4th. Clock ticks to 0, and the Great Danes in control 5-2

3rd period sees even more aggressive play by the Walleye, but nothing cashes in. Finally with just minutes to go, a pulled goalie results in a goal …… by LA…… as Gourde gets an empty netter to finish the carnage.

Final – LA 6, Toledo 2.

1st star – Gourde 2G
2nd – Scheifele 2G
3rd – Nurse 1G 2pts

GAME #4:




Face saving time in the Glass City. Having given up 19 goals in the last 3 games. On the brink of elimination.

First period sees many zone entries die quickly for the Walley. Meanwhile the Great Danes fire a number of shots on Pettersen. Clean play with no penalties. …. and no goals for either team. Walleye feeling like something has been accomplished with a zero on the LA side of the board.

2nd period sees more solid defense, and now the Walleye have a 2:1 SOG advantage. Near the end of the period a pair of Pulock minors gives the Walleye the opening they have craved, but nothing comes of either PP. But in between, a little disorganization by the Danes give Trocheck a rebound shot, and the Walleye have a rare lead. Period ends 1-0 Toledo.

LA finally breaks onto the scoreboard with a goal, early, by Ehlers. Then again a minute later, again Ehlers, and then the proverbial stake in the heart by Strphenson. 3 goals in less than 3 minutes. 3-1 LA, and Toledo is stumbling. Two minutes later, a goal by Robertson shows that Toledo has not flat lined. And on we go. Five minutes later, a goal by Hoffman ties the game at 3. Crowd is alive, and the Walleye don’t smell quite so bad. The comeback peaks 3 minutes later when Saad redirects a Mangiapane shot into the net. Bedlam, crowd back into it. Can the Walleye hold off the Great Dane surge for 4 minutes? A few key faceoffs won by the Walleye let them burn a little time, but eventually LA pulls the goalie and comes into the Walleye zone. Shot blocks, deflections, and poke checks make the task just too muck for LA, and Toledo hangs on for a dramatic come from behind win.

Final Toledo 4, LA 3

1st star – Ehlers 2G
2nd – Trocheck 1G 2pts
3rd – Robertson 1G

SUMMARY: The split a home gives the Great Danes a commanding 3-1 lead. Toledo hanging on for dear life. Now we head back south for game 5.
 PREVIEW: The Danes return home up 3 games to 1, but losing a 3-1 3rd period lead in game 4 is a missed opportunity that we hope does not come back to haunt LA. Shesterkin gets the nod in goal for the second time in the series, with Varlamov waiting in the wings if needed for games 6/7.
GAME #5:




The Danes come out the gate fast, and Darnell Nurse beats Demko on the first shot of the game at 1:23. The Danes continue to play well until Nurse takes an elbowing penalty, and James van Riemsdyk beats Shesterkin on the PP to tie the game at 8:43. The rest of the period is pretty quiet and we go to intermission tied at 1.

In the second, the crowd cringes as Samuel Girard is assessed a double-minor for charging. Toledo’s power play has been dangerous, and while they get 4 SOG on the 4-minute power play, LA’s PK does a good job and limits the PP chances. After that, LA seems to control play and they get their own PP chance. The Danes do everything but score as Demko comes up huge with 6 saves on 6 scoring chances. At that point, LA has a 14-3 advantage for the game in scoring chances, but we’re still tied at 1 in the latter stages of period 2. Then a major moment occurs as Jason Robertson takes a 5-minute boarding penalty at 18:18. As the period closes out, LA with 3 more PP chances but only 1 SOG as Toledo does the job on the first part of the PK. So a scoreless 2nd period.

3:18 of power play time for LA to open the 3rd, and Roope Hintz drives to the net on a wrap-around attempt and beats Demko at 1:18 of the 3rd. Two full minutes remain on the 5-minute major, but LA does not do much with the time, and shortly after that Chandler Stephenson takes a holding penalty, so Toledo has their chance on the PP. Toledo seems to dominate the power play, but 5 saves by Shesterkin and another 3-4 blocked shots allows LA to survive and kill off the penalty. But about a minute later, Toledo ties the same on a Brandon Saad goal at 7:34.

After that, LA regains the momentum and gets the next 5 scoring chances and Mark Scheifele comes up with the goal to give LA the lead back at 3-2 at 17:23. And Scheifele beats Demko again at 18:59 before Toledo can gain possession and pull the goalie – 4-2 Great Danes with a minute left! In the final minute, LA blocks a couple of shots and Shesterkin’s last save of the game comes at the buzzer.

The Danes win the game 4-2 and wrap up the series. It took 2 late goals by Mark Scheifele to put Toledo away, but LA definitely came to play in this one as they had no interest in facing a game 6 in Toledo. SOG 44-28, chances 26-7, and a 67% faceoff win rate put LA in the best position to find a way to win at the end.

SUMMARY: The Great Danes will bask in the glory of their series victory as they await the Brentwood-Bathgate winner. As it’s been most of the year, there were many heroes and lots of balanced scoring for LA, with 8 players with 5+ points in the 5-game series (and 4 others with 4 points). Most notable in the series was LA’s ability to avoid playing from behind. They never trailed in games 2/3/5 and played from behind for only 15 minutes of 300 minutes in the series.

Congratulations to Mike and the Walleye for a tremendous season – a division title and 115 points and a trip to the conference finals. And looking at their roster, they look to be a serious force to be reckoned with next year.