The Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons didn’t come out with the same giddy up as they did in the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament opener, but it was enough to ride to victory in Game 1 of the Alberta Midget Hockey League Chrysler division semifinals.
The Bisons shook off the 10-day rust and held on for the 5-4 victory over the Calgary Flames.
“Watching all the other series go last week, we were chomping at the bit to get going, . There was probably a bit of rust there and they came out flying coming off a big series win,” said Bisons assistant coach Paden Grant.
With 10 days off from the Bisons final regular season game until puck drop against the Flames, it didn’t come as a huge shock to see a less than ideal opening 10 minutes.
Dylan Holloway, a sixth round pick by the Everett Silverstips of the WHL, put the Flames in front on a point shot, beating a screened Ben Laidlaw.
Five minutes later, the Bisons were able to breath a little easier once defensemen Tyler Strath intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, sending Illinois native Boaz Bassen in alone. Keeping it simple, he got into the heart of the slot, before burning Ben Howard with a wrister, evening the score halfway through the first period.
The Flames rolled out Howard in net, despite surrendering 11 goals on 65 shots in the two meetings against the Bisons this season.
The Bisons last faced the Flames Jan. 13 in Strathmore, when the Bisons dusted the Flames 4-1. They also met back in October in Calgary, where the Bisons blasted the Flames 7-2.
It was a deflection display in the second period, as the Bisons used a pair of redirections to take the lead.
Working the point on the power play, Peyton Krebs unleashed a belt high wrister that kept rising on its way to the net. Jackson Salt was cutting through the zone and swatted the puck out of mid air, redirecting it in. Immediately, the Flames wanted a high-sticking call, but the goal stood.
Later in the frame, Flames winger Eric Martin took a four-minute penalty for contact to the head.
“Those four-minute power plays are huge and it’s definitely a goal of ours to capitalize as often as we can,” said Bisons defencemen Landon Melzer.
The second deflection came via a Strathmore connection.
Local product Cole Clayton was the quarterback on the blue line, as his low wrister was tipped in fellow hometown product Kaden Hanas, who then did his best George Laraque impression, and jumped into the glass near the corner.
“Playing in front of a crowd like that fires you up a little. You try and stay focused, but it’s definitely a cool feeling,” said Hanas.
On the back end of Martin’s minor, Melzer walked the line, spotted a clear lane to the net and roofed one past Howard, stretching the Herd’s lead to 4-2 with 1:18 to go in the second period.
Krebs and Zach Huber connected on a spectacular two-on-one play in the third, and it’s a play that is becoming a little redundant to the regular season ticket holder.
Countless times this year, Krebs has displayed the touch, accuracy and timing to loft a precision pass across the length of the ice, over however many defenders lie in the way, right into Huber’s wheelhouse.
“They have that play down to a science, it’s becoming automatic,” said Grant.
And Huber, like any of the great one-timing goal scorers — Steve Stamkos, Brett Hull, Mike Cammalleri — doesn’t need the puck to be in his sweet spot for him to drive it home. But, as so often Krebs has done, put it right on his tape and there was no mistaking it.
The Flames were feisty; rolling with the confidence of a first round upset, they didn’t back down from the Bisons.
Holloway found the back of the net again in the second and a pair of third period markers trimmed the Bisons lead down to one.
“They had a lot of momentum in the third period and we expect them to come out hard in Game 2. It’s going to be a tough series,” said Melzer.
The Flames had three offensive faceoffs in the final 1:27 with their net empty. Laidlaw was a wall when he had to be. Faced with tons of traffic and dog piles, the Flames tried desperately to push one across, but to no avail. Laidlaw finished up with 29 saves in his playoff debut.
The series quickly shifts to Father David Bauer tomorrow night (7:30 p.m.). It’s an arena that has treated the Herd nicely this year, as they sit a perfect 5-0 on the big ice.
“Definitely playing on the big ice helps our game out a lot and it’s a place we are comfortable playing in,” said Hanas.
While the Bisons look to grab the stranglehold, in the other Chrysler semi, the Calgary Buffaloes sit comfortably up 2-0 and look for the sweep against the Calgary Northstars Saturday at the Cardel Rec South Arena.