It is down to eight in the Tiger Hills Hockey League. The Gladstone Lakers and Neepawa Farmers are the last teams to kick off their quarter-final series, with Game 1 taking place tonight.
The Lakers cruised past the Carberry Plainsmen in round one with 8-1 and 9-3 victories. For the Farmers, the first-round was a different story. Neepawa went to a do-or-die Game 3 against the MacGregor Wild and prevailed 4-3.
The Lakers are the favourites in this series as they finished at the top of their division with a 13-5-0 record, whereas Neepawa ended the year 7-10-1.
Gladstone's head coach Dale Evenson outlines the challenges that come when facing the Farmers.
"Neepawa is a good, young, and fast team. They've come a long way since the start of the year," Evenson explains. "We played them about a month ago, and we won in overtime. They've got some guys that have started learning the league and are playing quite well. It's going to be a really good series. These guys are our number one rival, so it's great to play them again in the playoffs."
The leading voice on the bench for the Farmers, Garett Rempel, agrees that the Lakers are their biggest rivals. He says that will add some extra excitement to the best-of-five affair.
"They've definitely gotten the best of us for the last little while. We always seem to give them some good games and go to five games but we haven't won a series against them," Rempel continues. "Hopefully, we can change that this year and beat them."
Rempel believes if they can stop Gladstone's stars, Sean Kubas, Jesse Toth, and Jory Geddes, they will have a great opportunity to come out on top. Evenson, on the other hand, thinks the Lakers' depth could be the difference.
"We have to continue having our four lines rolling and be physical. We're a fairly physical team and a fairly quick team. So, we have to keep those two things going," says Evenson. "We have good goaltending. I'm not scared to play any one of the three goalies we have. I'm looking forward to a new challenge and raising our game to another level because each round is going to get tougher."
Neepawa's head coach notes while they are more battle-tested than Gladstone right now, having won a tight first-round series, he doesn't believe the Lakers will lack competitiveness.
"It might help us a little bit, but with these two towns being so close together, we've developed this rivalry. So, they usually come out flying against us, and we're the same way," adds Rempel."
Game 1 in this best-of-five series goes down tonight at 8 p.m. in Gladstone.