The parking lot was packed, the stands were full and the players were ready — it’s tournament time.
The CFR Chemicals Bisons lifted the curtain on the 39th Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament with a strong 5-2 win Dec. 26 over the Red Deer Optimists Chiefs at Father David Bauer Arena.
“It’s good to get out to a good start and give ourselves a chance to win the pool. Red Deer is a very strong team so this was a good confidence-boosting win for the boys,” said Bisons assistant coach Paden Grant.
In a tourney filled with uncertainty, the Bisons opened the tourney against their Chrysler division rivals. The Chiefs gave the Bisons their first blemish of the season when the two squads skated to a 2-2 tie back in October. The Chiefs sit fifth with a record of 12-4-7, eight points behind the Bisons.
There was no pregame anthem and the zamboni didn’t clean the ice after warm up, but it didn’t matter. The Bisons stormed out of the gate following the opening faceoff.
Zach Huber took a pass at centre, walked into the zone and unloaded a clapper from the left faceoff dot. Avoiding the diving shot blocker; Huber’s blast was too hot for Justin Travis to handle in net, clanking off his glove.
The Bisons started the season with a top line of Jackson Salt, Peyton Krebs and Huber. Throughout the season, injuries, call-ups and line experimentation juggled the lines, but the three were reunited in the tourney’s opener.
Later on in the frame, visionary defenseman Cole Clayton saw Krebs wheeling into the neutral zone when he lobbed a Hail Mary stretch pass up the centre of the ice. Hitting Krebs in stride, Krebs took off on a break, leaving the defender in the dust. Deking forehand, Krebs was staring at a wide-open net with Travis’ jock dangling somewhere in the rafters.
“He tends to look for me going up the middle, I like to work up the middle and it just ended up working out. He made a great play and I was lucky enough to finish,” said Krebs.
Clayton was rewarded as player of the game for his work.
“I’ve been waiting for this all Christmas. If you’re not on top your game, you can be out of it right off the start. It’s good to see us start on a good note,” said Clayton, who was instrumental with a pair of assists, while shutting Chiefs down on the other end.
“He’s gonna make a good play with the puck almost every time. He’s going to make a pass and hit the guy on the tape, giving him enough room to work with,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
Admittedly not playing their best as of late, the Bisons turned a dominating performance in the opener.
“We have been struggling lately, off to a couple slow starts in games, but the 2-0 lead early really got us going in the right direction,” said Bisons winger Huber.
Following their regular season meeting, Henry mentioned that it was a throwback, old-school, rough and physical game. While still physical, the larger ice surface in the tournament allowed the Bisons to use their speed to go past the Chiefs.
Nearly five minutes into the second, the Chiefs cut the lead in half when a loose puck in front of Ben Laidlaw eluded his grasp. Dylan Scheunert was simply a little quicker than Laidlaw, sneaking the puck from Laidlaw and tucking it into the open cage.
Laidlaw wasn’t overly busy in the first two frames, recording 15 stops. His finest work came in the third, when Justin Paarup was hauled down by Clayton, resulting in a penalty shot. The Chiefs trailed 3-1 when Paarup grabbed the puck at centre. Weaving into the zone, he deked to the right, Laidlaw bit, but recovered quickly to kick away the low shot attempt.
Eleven minutes later, defenseman Liam Belcourt bagged the winner when Blake Wells went sprawling to the right post trying to jam one in. The puck worked it’s way around the boards to Belcourt, who stopped it, controlled it and fired a shot that beat Travis blocker side.
In the third, speedster Brandon Machado took the puck at the top of the Chiefs zone and began wheeling down low. It appeared as if he was going to carry the puck around the net, but at the last second, he flipped a backhand saucer out to captain Brett Trentham at the side of the net, jamming it in, extending the lead to 4-1.
The Bisons put the Chiefs on ice while on a 5-on-3 advantage. Working the one-timer, Clayton lofted a pass to Tarun Fizer at the left faceoff dot, blasting it in.
The Chiefs added a late marker that only matters for tie breaking purposes and for elevating blood pressure levels.
“I’ve seen it happen too many times in this tournament. You take care of business and win your games, but sometimes it comes down to those goals you allow late in the first game that you didn’t need to come back to haunt you. That’s why I was hard on the guys when we were up by four late in the game,” said Henry.
“Losses and ties get you in trouble in this tournament. It’s important to get out, take care of business and feel good about yourselves early.”
Other Pool 5 action from Day 1 of the Mac’s saw the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League leading Moose Jaw Generals skate past the Alaska Oilers 3-2.