The Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons held of a vicious third period push from the Calgary Royals, advancing to the semifinals of the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament.
The Bisons led 3-1 through most of the second period, but gave up a last second goal and hung on for dear life in the third period, escaping with the 3-2 win.
Alec McLeod appeared to tie the game with 7:14 remaining in the third, but the goal was quickly waved off, as the net was jarred loose.
“The hockey gods were on our side,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry. “It makes up for a couple of goals we had called back the past few games.”
The cancelled goal didn’t slow down the Royals one bit. While they were constantly pressing, the majority of the chances came from distance.
Laidlaw was still relied on to pull out the win. Boaz Bassen took his second penalty of the game with just under five minutes to go, severely tilting the ice down towards Laidlaw. Like he has all season and all tournament, he remained calm between the pipes with a strong lower half, denying the Royals.
“We held on with sheer luck and determination,” said assistant coach Mike Langen. “When it comes down to it, these guys in the this room really don’t like to lose.”
After a scoreless opening frame, the Bisons struck first when centreman Peyton Krebs was sent in alone and wristed one past Callum Humble as he fell to his knees, just 35 seconds into the second.
It’s happened a few times now this tourney, where the Bisons will net a goal and give it right back on the next shift or two.
The Royals skated to a 3-3 tie with the Bisons earlier in December at the Strathmore Family Centre. The Bisons trailed late, until captain Brett Trentham scored the tying goal with five minutes on the clock.
Playing in his third Mac’s, Trentham stung the Royals once again.
He was off on a two-on-one rush with Brandon Machado. Machado flipped a backhand saucer over to his captain, and Trentham buried it.
Later in the frame, Machado and Trentham were at it once again, this time, in a roll reversal.
Trentham stole the puck deep in the Royals zone, immediately setting up Machado for the one-timer for his first goal of the tourney. Machado was named player of the game.
“There line was very solid today. Trents played well and Tarun (Fizer) and Machado were right there with him. We needed them today,” said Henry.
“That line has been our most consistent line all December and they have carried it over into the tournament,” said Langen.
Fizer is one of the younger guys on the team, but has had a great regular season (he currently leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 27 points) and was in on both of his lines goals today.
“He’s unreal. His poise and speed are unmatched. He might get lost in the d zone a little bit, but he more than makes up for it with the way he strips the puck on the backcheck. His ability to pick up steals is going to get him looked at in the next level,” said Langen.
Blake Wells missed his second-straight game, as the Bisons suffered another setback to one of their top forwards.
Jackson Salt got crunched into the boards near the penalty box in the first period and was helped off the ice. He was seen sitting in the stands in his street clothes during the second period.
Henry was juggling his lines the remainder of the game trying to find a good fit. Joel Krahenbil, Tyson Scott and affiliated player Tucker Zdunich all got some burn up front with Krebs and Zach Huber.
Affiliated player Mark Zachary will take Salt’s place in the semis. Playing for the AC Avalanche in the Alberta Minor Midget Hockey League this season, Zachary has racked up nine goals and 28 points in 20 games. He has been called up for a pair of regular season games with the Bisons and has one assist.
Henry commented following the game about finding the right line combinations moving forward, “We are going try some things and move guys around. It’s really going to come down to how the game feels and what we feel comfortable doing.”
The players were unavailable for comment following the quarterfinal, as they were whisked away to the Max Bell Centre to prepare for their semifinal match with the Saskatoon Contacts.
The Contacts shutout the Notre Dame Hounds 1-0 in their quarterfinal.
The reoccurring theme and beauty of this tournament is the great unknown of your competition.
For Langen, the scouting manual is a little thin this late in the tournament.
“I have no idea what they’re like, but I bet you that they’re pretty fricken’ good.”
Both Bisons and Contacts will have roughly three hours in between games. The Belarus National U17 squad takes on the Cariboo Cougars in the other semi.
The Contacts won Pool 3 (3-1) with wins over the Okanagan Rockets (5-2), Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings (7-2) and the Royals (4-2).
“I don’t know much about them, but apparently they have one line with some size and some speed. We are just going to stick to our game plan, throw some speed at them and see what happens,” said a weary-eyed Henry.
Leading the Contacts in tourney scoring is Connor Zary with five goals and 11 points. Chance Adrian is second with four goals and nine points, while Rayce Ramsay is 2-0 in net, making 86 saves on 92 shots.
The Contacts captured the Mac’s Cup back in 2004 and currently sit third in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League at 18-8-0-2.
The finals for the tournament run New Year’s Day, 4 p.m. at the Scotia Bank Saddledome.