After wrapping up the regular season on a winning note, the Valley Midget AAA Wildcats have their sights set on the first round of the NSMMHL playoffs.
The Wildcats won their final regular season game 4-1 in Cole Harbour Jan. 23, good for a fourth place finish with a record of 18 wins, 10 losses, two shootout losses and four overtime losses for 42 points.
Some NSMMHL teams still had games left to play, but the Wildcats were 16 points up on fifth-place South Shore Mustangs and could plan on meeting the Mustangs in the first round of the playoffs, beginning Feb. 1-2 in Berwick.
Wildcats’ head coach Dan Turner said a top-four finish was the Wildcats’ goal entering the season.
A year ago, Valley won the provincial and Atlantic championships and competed at the TELUS cup. While the team had lost several key players, “we had expectations for this season, especially where we did so well last year,” Turner said.
“We’ve already achieved one goal by finishing top four. Now we’re looking to go deep into the playoffs,” and hopefully add another league title to the trophy case.
Based on their record, he added, they match up well with the top three teams.
“We haven’t always played as well against the lesser teams, but we seem to be a team that rises to the challenge. Given that in the playoffs every game is big, we’re looking forward to having a good playoff run.”
Other than Stone Harnish, who is out for at least four more weeks - and maybe the season - with the fourth concussion of his career, the ’Cats are relatively healthy.
“We have had a lot of injuries this season. At one point, we had five guys out at the same time,” Turner said.
Now most of those players are back in the lineup.
“South Shore is a good team,” he said. “We’ve done well against them, but they’re a better team than they were earlier in the season,” with a new coach and a couple of new key players, most notably Jordan Messenger, formerly with Yarmouth.
The Wildcats will be looking for an upset in one of the other first-round match-ups to avoid having to play first-place Halifax in the second round.
“We won three of four from Dartmouth, and we’ve done well against Cole Harbour, with most games going to overtime or a shootout, but not as well against Halifax.”
Turner said he was happy with the regular season, and happy with the team entering the playoffs.
“Maybe I’m greedy. You always want to do better, but we finished top-four, which may have surprised some people who didn’t expect as much from us.”
The Wildcats scored 130 goals in the regular season, fourth in the league, and allowed 107, also fourth in the league.
Brett Tidman led the team in both goals with 26 and points with 38. Michael Dill, Alex Rawding, Ryan Parker, Eli Hughes and the injured Harnish all had at least 10 goals, and Batherson chipped in three in just six games.
The Wildcats, Turner said, “aren’t going in (to the playoffs) overconfident in any way, and we are looking forward to a tough (first-round) series.”