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 Abbotsford Canucks

Abbotsford Canucks Roll into Second Round of AHL Playoffs with Depth as Their Strength against Ontario Reign

May 1, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Abbotsford Canucks News Release

The Abbotsford Canucks continue their chase for the Calder Cup as their second-round series begins on Wednesday night against the Ontario Reign.

Abbotsford won their way into the second round with a three-game series win in Colorado against the Eagles. Abbotsford captain Chase Wouters scored in overtime on Sunday afternoon to clinch the series and give the Canucks their matchup with the Reign in round two.

Ontario won their series against the Bakersfield Condors in two games and played good, defensive hockey - allowing only one goal in each of their two wins.

These teams played each other eight times in the regular season and both sides picked up four wins apiece. The Canucks outscored the Reign by a 25-20 count in their eight games including a 6-0 domination on December 21st.

The leading scorer for the Reign during the regular season was T.J. Tynan with 66 points in 71 games. Their leading goal scorer was Samuel Fagemo with 43 goals in 50 games. Former Canuck prospect Tyler Madden leads the Reign with three goals in two playoff games.

Erik Portillo is the Reign's starter between the pipes, and had a 24-11-3 record in the regular season with a .918% save percentage and a pair of shutouts.

The second-round series is set to be a defensive battle and emotions are sure to run high just as they did in game three of the Canucks' first-round bout with Colorado. Canucks captain Chase Wouters spoke about winning being the only thing that matters at the end of the day and the Canucks are continuing to learn how to stack those wins up as the playoffs go along.

This young Abbotsford team learned a lot from their playoff experience last season and are looking forward to continuing to build their game.

"We saw this last year and played two emotional and high-intense series. That is something that we learned from the Calgary series last year, where we lost two games in overtime. We're just trying to use that experience to help our team this year and do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance to win. And at the end of the day, winning is all that matters. That is why we're working so hard and continuing to build our game," said Wouters.

Head Coach Jeremy Colliton views this time of the year as the paramount part of developing players. Whether you're on the first line or in the press box, there's learning to be gained in the coming weeks and with the way playoff hockey goes in the AHL, you always need to be ready in case your name is called.

"You learn about how much the playoffs experience matters," said Colliton. "You have to go through it, you have to be around it. You really learn a lot from being involved in playoff hockey. Last year really helped our guys with that. Even the guys who don't play and are just experiencing this. It's a tremendous opportunity to learn what the pro game is all about."

Arshdeep Bains liked how his club finished the regular season and how it was not about results but how the team was playing their game.

"We played really well to finish the season and feel like we are peaking at the right time as the playoffs started," said Bains. "That was important for us because we weren't too satisfied with our regular season, but we know our group is better than that. We've got some confidence in here and feel we are one of the top teams in the league and that we can do some damage."

Colliton believes his team is at their best when they are forechecking hard and playing aggressively. His focus for the group is to play with pace and force the opposition to play at their team's tempo.

The coach also views the overtime period in game three against Colorado as the way he wants his group to play moving forward.

"I thought the best part of the whole series was how we came out in overtime. I thought we stopped playing not to lose and started playing to win."

With Artūrs Šilovs and Nikita Tolopilo being called up to the NHL to support the Vancouver Canucks, Zach Sawchenko has taken over the reins in net for Abbotsford and has shown extremely well in the playoffs.

Sawchenko has a .925% save percentage through three games and shined in the series-deciding game three, stopping 47 of the 48 shots he faced.

"Sawzy's played in the NHL, and he's obviously a great goalie, but he's also a really good teammate," said Wouters. "I think that's the thing we've been able to build around. He's been here all year and hasn't played much but he's been great every chance he's had. Sawzy has been a great guy in the room, a great teammate, and a great friend to all of us. Yeah, it's been a whirlwind, but this is fun, and we believe in him."

Sawchenko holds down the crease and has support from a defence corps that features veteran Matt Irwin and last year's AHL defenceman of the year, Christian Wolanin. Filip Johansson, Akito Hirose, Cole McWard and Nick Cicek are all younger defencemen who have been solid through the playoffs.

On the forward group, they are feeling confident with all four lines as they feature high-end scorers like Sheldon Dries, Linus Karlsson, Aatu Räty and Max Sasson. They find balance throughout the forward group with two-way dogs like Tristen Nielsen, Marc Gatcomb, and John Stevens.

Bains sees depth as the team's key to success and how anyone in the lineup can step up and be a leader.

"I think our depth is what helps us be effective. We've got a handful of guys on the front end that can score. If they're not scoring, they're helping other guys score," said Bains. "We've got a little bit of everything throughout this group working hard and every night a different guy is stepping up. I think that's important when you're on the road and don't have the last change. We're able to switch players around and keep it new, so it's hard for other teams to know who's going to be the guy. It's good for us because we can find success with a bunch of different players."

We also received news on Wednesday morning that Vasily Podkolzin was assigned to Abbotsford to get into some game action with the AHL club. He will provide a boost to the group as Podkolzin had 15 goals and 13 assists in 44 games with Abbotsford.

The Abbotsford Canucks play games one and two of the series on the road before coming home for game three and possibly games four and five. The second round of the AHL playoffs is a five-game series and the higher-seeded team decides if they want the first two home games or to have three road games to close out the series. In this series' case, the Reign selected to have the first two home games.

The captain spoke about what last season's playoff games were like at the Abbotsford Centre.

"For people that weren't there last year, it was electric, to say the least," said Wouters. "The rink was full, it was loud, and it was a lot of fun. We played good games on home ice last year and the fans have been truly amazing in the three years I've been here. It's cool to get the community together and all cheer for the same thing. The fans we have at our rink are just awesome."

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