(No, there is nothing wrong with your eyes. This might be one of the worst photos I’ve ever taken, but it was the biggest play of the game. I could have uploaded the same one-one-one, two Bisons competing for the puck photo like I typically do, but that’s not why you’re here. You came here because you want the best AMHL playoff coverage. So what if you need to squint, put on your father’s glasses to make out what I think is the puck crossing the line. It was a fantastic game, a fantastic play by a fantastic player, and a (nearly) fantastic photo to boot. It’s too bad the camera couldn’t focus in time.)
Hunting for the puck in the corner like a tiger shark, Peyton Krebs was trying desperately to find a way to get the puck into the back of the net to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole in the Alberta Midget Hockey League semifinals to the league-leading Calgary Buffaloes.
By simply gaining position on the smaller Dylan Anhorn, Krebs muscled him to the ice, raising the right arm of the referee. The crowd of more than 400 in attendance Sunday night disagreed with the call, so did Krebs.
The Buffs took their stumbling power play (1-for-17 this postseason) into the Bisons end with 10:23 remaining in the third period, tied 0-0.
With the way Prince George Cougars prospect and former 10th overall pick in the 2016 WHL draft Taylor Gauthier was playing in net, one goal at that stage was a curtain dropper. And with two of a possible three games remaining to be played at the Buffs’ rink, it could have been the beginning of the end.
Desperation was clinging to the air like a dense marine-layer fog. The Bisons had been doing a great job of getting down to block shots all night, but alternate captain Kaden Hanas took things to the next level, diving head first to block a point shot towards the end of the Krebs minor.
“I accepted the penalty, went and served it. The boys did a great job killing the penalty, so when I got back on the ice, I wanted to do what I could to make up for that,” Krebs
Shortly after the Bisons killed their fourth penalty of the night, one of Krebs’ partners in crime, Zach Huber, dove at the puck in the neutral zone, queuing the puck up to Krebs, who was already behind the Buffs defenders.
The game and the series were riding on his stick, as he darted in on former Western Canada Challenge Cup teammate Gauthier.
“We got the one break we were hoping for and we finished on it,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
The 6-foot-1 Guathier came out aggressively, trying to cut down all possible angles.
Like with any great goal scorer, Krebs (who was named AMHL player of the month prior to puck drop) tapped into his memory bank while cruising at what felt like hyper-speed.
“Last time I went in on him, I went five-hole and he stopped me. I knew I had to go with something different,” said Krebs. “My dad always tells me, that when a goalie comes out at you like that, to deke. So I deked him and it happened to go in.”
By pinning Gauthier’s aggressiveness against him, Krebs scrolled through his Rolodex of moves and pulled out the Mighty Ducks triple-deke, finishing on the backhand, over a sprawled out Gauthier.
“He always finds a way; he’s slick, he’s quick — he showed the shot, got the commitment, his move was quick and got it up over the pad. That’s goal scorer’s stuff,” said Henry.
The undressing took place with 6:45 remaining in the third, as the Strathmore Family Centre went nuts.
Completely redeeming himself for a penalty he didn’t deserve to be slapped with in the first place, Krebs went down to a knee, shooting an arrow to the skies in celebration.
The 1-0 score would hold up to be the final, as the Bisons evened the series up 1-1, making it a best-of-three.
“Being down 2-0 in a best-of-five is a big mountain. When you go down that much to teams like the caliber of that team, you’re asking a lot from your guys. It had to be tonight. This just puts us in such a better spot,” said Henry.
Oddly enough, the nervousness of the crowd grew exponentially after Krebs’ marker, compared to the first 53 minutes.
The Buffs would not go quietly into the night. The Krebs’ goal cranked their compete level to 11, as they tried to force overtime.
The Bisons received restaurant-quality goaltending throughout the regular season. The quarterfinal matchup saw both goalies play their worst stretch of the season. Ben Laidlaw allowed 13 goals in 11-plus periods of action in the quarterfinals. The same way he deletes goals he allows in the past from his memory banks, he completely moved on from his early playoff struggles.
To say that Laidlaw stole Game 2 wouldn’t be a stretch, but it wouldn’t be completely accurate, either. He was just as important as the Krebs dangle-show.
Laidlaw went back to being a rock for the Bisons. Playing strong down low, he was kicking out shot attempts all night long, finishing with 28 saves for his first shutout this postseason.
Perhaps his best work came in the final 40 seconds.
After a Buffs timeout and an empty net, Laidlaw had his stick knocked out of his hand on a fly-by. Making do, he picked up pair of saves and covered the puck, sans stick.
“Laids has done that all year. He is goalie with a lot of upside; he will be a big backbone for us in this series. He just outplayed one of the best goalies in Canada. It’s going to be a goalie battle between the two teams the rest of the way,” said Krebs.
Laidlaw’s shutout extends the Buffs goalless streak to 104:33 and counting, the longest drought of their season.
“I thought we were much better defensively tonight. We still struggled offensively, but if you can win not having played your best game, well, I guess I will have to take that,” said Henry.
Maybe the most important takeaway was that the win marked the first time the Bisons knocked off the Buffs this season. Now, there is no physical proof that the Buffs turn into world-beating robots when they see the Bisons black and red uniforms.
Moving forward, that could be huge.
Forward, to Game 3, which is set for Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at the Cardel Rec South Arena.
In the other AMHL semifinal, the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings sit 2-0 on the division-champion Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings after a pair of overtime wins (a triple-overtime win in Game 2). Their Game 3 goes Tuesday night as well.
Not to be lost in this playoff season has been the play of Boaz Bassen.
Due to the injuries of forward’s Tarun Fizer and Tyler Petrie, Henry has had to call up a pair of affiliated players for each playoff game.
Last series, it was Tucker Zdunich and Ryan Ries. This series, it has been Jaevon Buschlen and Zdunich.
Stuck in the middle of this AP sandwich has been Bassen.
“We are just trying to keep the energy going in the playoffs. I’m trying to learn their strengths and weakness as we go, and keep them positive on the bench,” said Bassen.
Sunday night, the Bassen-AP line was one of the few lines generating scoring chances that weren’t getting kicked away by the Buffs defensive core.
“You can see how effective those guys are, that comes from Bo knowing what to do. They don’t know our systems that well, but Bo did a great job reeling them in and covering for them when they got out of position,” said Henry.