The series didn't start in their favour, but the NACI Tigers made sure there was no doubt who the better team was by the time it ended.
The Tigers, ranked fourth heading into the playoffs, defeated the fifth-ranked Vincent Massey Vikings by a convincing 8-1 score Wednesday evening at the Yellowhead Centre to claim a 2-1 series victory in the opening round of the Westman High School Hockey League best-of-three series.
Shane Levandosky and Trent Nelson led the way offensively for NACI, with both players notching hat tricks on the evening. Ian Montgomery and Garett Rempel scored Neepawa's other markers.
Brendan Harris, Wyatt Salmon and Rempel all tallied two assists.
The win came after NACI lost Game 1 by a close 5-4 score, but evened the series in Game 2 with a 6-3 win.
“The key was to get all our lines contributing,” coach Gary Salmon explained. “Trent Nelson was also big for us this series with some multi-point games, while Wednesday night saw a great game by our defensive guys to take away any of Vincent Massey's offensive attacks. Brady Plett was also sharp in net.”
The win sets NACI up for a semi-finals series against either the top-ranked Deloraine/Hartney squad, or eighth-ranked Crocus Plains.
Deloraine/Hartney led the best-of-three series 1-0 as of Friday morning.
In coach Salmon's mind, both teams are beatable if his team comes prepared to battle.
“We had wins against both in our league games, but you have to be at your best for any opponent during playoffs,” Salmon noted. “Teams are always bringing their 'A' games now.”
NACI is still awaiting a Game 2 in its best-of-three semi-final series against Rivers/Elton in the Provincial Playoffs North Region qualification. The Tigers won Game 1 by a 7-4 score.
If NACI wins the series, they will face Russell's Major Pratt Trojans next round, with the winner getting a berth in the upcoming 'A'/'AA' Provincials.