In the concluding hours of 2016, the Saskatoon Contacts punched their ticket to the championship game of the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament.
The Contacts eclipsed the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons 5-3 Dec. 31 at the Max Bell Centre #1.
Joining the Contacts will be the Belarus National U17 team. They downed the Telus Cup hosts, the Cariboo Cougars 5-4 in a tumultuous, but brief, overtime period.
Dmitri Savritski scored the winner, as he sniped on a breakaway five seconds into the extra frame while on the powerplay.
For the Bisons, the tournament came to a crashing halt after starting out 5-0.
“I’m really proud of these guys. We had a really great tournament and we learnt a lot about ourselves. This will only help us going forward into playoffs,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
Both teams came out sharp. You couldn’t even tell that they both came off emotional quarterfinal wins three hours prior.
The Bisons looked normal early, which might sound weird, but complementary considering the circumstances of a double dip. Their legs appeared fresh as they were getting back on defence and creating opportunities in the other end. However, they seemed a hair off at the beginning. Alternate captain Kaden Hanas fanned on a pair of glorious attempts, while other Bisons forwards like Boaz Bassen and the sure-handed Zach Huber, had shot attempts fizzle off the heel of their stick.
The Contacts struck first on a point shot deflected in by their captain Chance Adrian.
“We kept working all tournament. We took it game-by-game, we got a great group of guys with a high compete level,” said Contacts head coach Marc Chartier. “This was a good win, but we still have a lot of work ahead.”
It was interesting to see who the led the Bisons out of the tunnel for the pregame skate. All season, Henry has used his goalie tandem of Ben Laidlaw and Hunter Young to a tee, always alternating between the two.
In the Bisons biggest game of the tournament, Henry tapped Laidlaw on the shoulder to start his second game of the day. He was only three hours removed from stopping 32 pucks in the Bisons quarterfinal 3-2 win over the Calgary Royals.
“We were going to ride him until he burnt out,” said Henry.
Laidlaw appeared screened on Adrian’s fifth goal.
The Bisons only trailed for 14 seconds during the entire tourney, but trailed from about the five-minute mark of the first onward.
A too-many men penalty, while already on the penalty kill at the expiration of the first period put the Bisons down two men for the first 1:21 of the second.
Killed successfully, the Herd headed right back to the penalty kill when Huber drilled Brody Vogel in the head. From some angles, it appeared as if Vogel avoided the hit at the last minute. From the referee’s angle, Huber earned a four-minute minor.
Nevertheless, the Bisons killed all four minutes off and began to chip away.
Shots the Bisons were whiffing on in the first, were air mailed in the second.
Buzzing around the net, they were getting their chances, but couldn’t get one to fall.
Eventually turning the puck over at the Contacts blue line, they were sent the other way quickly. Laidlaw over committed on the rush, sliding out of position to stop the pass back to the open man.
Down two goals, the Bisons continued throwing everything on net. Finally, one dropped in when Tyler Petrie recorded his first goal of the tournament. Shooting from outside, his wrister went high, handcuffing Raycre Ramsay. Bouncing off his blocker, the puck ballooned up and over the stunned Ramsay and into the net.
Ramsay might still be wondering how that one got behind him.
A simple misstep, a slip up, restored the Contacts two-goal cushion.
Tyler Strath had position on the dangerous Quinton Ong, but stumbled just before his blue line, leaving Ong with a clear path to Laidlaw. A quick head fake and Ong had an open cage to shoot at, 3-1 Contacts.
“You just let that kid play. He goes all-out every night, never taking a shift off. It’s incredible,” said Chartier.
Tarun Fizer continued his strong tournament play, always in on the rush, working in the corners, trying to set up teammates. He had a couple good cracks at sending one on net, but was slightly off mark.
Ramsay shutout the Notre Dame Hounds in their quarterfinal and continued his strong play through the semi.
“We got two good goaltenders and we went with the hot hand. He played great,” said Chartier.
The Bisons got the start they needed in the third. They had another goal called back on defence for having a net off its moorings and then their leading scorer came down and rocketed one off the water bottle.
Huber finished the tournament leading the Herd with seven goals and two assists, good enough for sixth in the tourney.
Unfortunately, the momentum was not harnessed, as the Contacts marched right back down the ice and restored their two-goal lead at 4-2.
The first half of the third was clogged up with trips to the penalty box. Both teams were drawing minors that neither agreed with. Maybe players were going down a little bit easier in an important game, or maybe their legs were starting to give out in their sixth period of action on the day.
Joel Krahenbil has been trying to set up everyone all tournament, but nobody has buried any of his quirky passes. With the sand running out on the Bisons, Brandon Machado’s shot from the wing was stopped, but Krahenbil stood on the doorstep and after a pair of whacks at it, bringing the Bisons within one.
That would be as close as the Bisons would come. Landon Melzer led a great short-handed rush, but missed wide. The Contacts kept icing the puck, but the ensuing faceoffs didn’t equate to much. Tyson Terretta let a blast from the point go and it was tipped a hair wide by Machado with 6:04 remaining. Ramsay even made the rare knob save.
Laidlaw looked to head to the bench with just under a minute remaining, but got caught in no-man’s land as the Contacts dumped in their fifth goal.
“You know, there’s always a chance at a rematch if we meet them again at the Telus Cup, I think that’s an opportunity we would all love to have,” said Henry.
Maybe the Bisons would have been able to tie the game late if they fully healthy. Blake Wells and Jackson Salt — two forwards combing for 19 goals and 42 points this season — were sidelined with upper-body injuries.
“Blake Wells is a big power forward and Jackson Salt is a tenacious forward, they are a couple guys that can bring some energy. I’m really happy with what we got from the AP’s, but I’m just saddest that they didn’t get to experience the full tournament,” said Henry.
The Contacts will take on Belarus tomorrow (4 p.m.) at the Scotia Bank Saddledome.
The Bisons (18-3-3) now have a week off as they prepare for the final stretch of the Alberta Hockey League season. Their next game goes Jan. 8 when they take on the Calgary Royals (14-5-4) at Stu Peppard Arena. Their next home game is slated for Jan. 13 when they welcome the Calgary Flames (15-7-1) to the Strathmore Family Centre.