The Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons ability to rattle of a mini winning streak will be put to the test.
It has to be, at this point, after the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings won 5-4 in double overtime during Game 2 of the best-of-five Alberta Midget Hockey League finals Wednesday night at Sobeys Arena.
“I truly still believe we can win three games in a row. Getting it done tonight would have made a big difference, but we are still confident in that room,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
Oil Kings affiliated player Dillion Hamaliuk sent Jaden York off on a two-on-one rush with Tyler Smithies. York sent a perfect pass over to Smithies, who ended the game at the 2:28 mark of double overtime.
Hamaliuk has been a lightning rod for the Oil Kings since returning from the Seattle Thunderbirds late in the season. He leads the playoffs with five goals and six assists.
Hamaliuk’s presence has helped the Oil Kings get within one win of their first league title in franchise history.
“We just got to dig deep at this point and try to regroup for Friday. The good thing is, we can give it all we got now because we are playing for our season each night,” said Bisons alternate captain Tyson Scott.
The Bisons arrived in Leduc for the first time since October a little later than anticipated. Unable to exercise their full pre-game routine, the Bisons were buzzing in the opening frame, one that saw six goals.
The Oil Kings opened the scoring 59 seconds in when Conrad Phillips slid one along the ice, beating Ben Laidlaw five-hole from Ryan Straschnitzki.
Six minutes later, Cole Clayton sent Peyton Krebs on a breakaway. Krebs went to one of his favourites, faking to the backhand, beating Easton Hesse glove side.
Tyson Terretta picked up his second of the playoffs when his blast from the point kicked off Oil Kings AP Sandro Luck-Palliotto’s foot and in.
Jakin Smallwood and Carson Laird picked up makers in the opening frame for the Oil Kings, as teams headed into the break knotted at three, when Kaden Hanas sniped his fifth of the postseason from Tyler Strath with 58 seconds remaining.
“The first period wasn’t anything we haven’t been through this year. That’s the reason we kept coming back; we have faced adversity like that lots, we were ready as a team,” said Oil Kings head coach Taylor Harnett.
It looked like the game was destined to mirror a one-on-one basketball game, first one to seven wins. Eventually, the franticness tapered off after a blustery first period.
“We have to cut down what we’re giving them. Still, I’m not unhappy with the way we played tonight,” said Henry.
The craziness calmed down during the intermission as the goaltending settled into the blue ice.
Laidlaw was very un-Laidlaw-like in the opening frame, allowing three goals on six shots.
The last time a Bison netminder let in three goals in the first period, he was lifted for his backup. That was Hunter Young against the Calgary Flames in Game 3 of the divisional semifinals.
“We didn’t really think about (pulling Laidlaw). As far as of what Ben let in, I didn’t have any concern. I thought he did his job. There was a deflection, we had a d-man fall down and give up a rush, and we didn’t pick up our guy defensively in front of our own net. As for Friday, we will have a discussion and take it from there,” said Henry.
Tyler Schendel retook the lead for the Oil Kings at the 2:06 mark of the second period, when his point shot snuck by a screened Laidlaw.
Blake Wells was a force when healthy for the Bisons during the regular season. An upper-body injury knocked him out for several weeks in the middle of the season, and has struggled to find the back of the net during the playoff run.
The Oil Kings iced the puck with less than four minutes to go in the second, when Tyson Scott won a scrambled faceoff, as Wells swooped in to grab the loose puck. Firing from the slot, he ripped home his third point of the playoffs.
Both goaltenders were solid from there on out. The Oil Kings were taking it to the Bisons in the third period and first overtime, trying to use their pressure against them, but Laidlaw kept the Bisons hanging around.
Both teams were no strangers to overtime. The Bisons won a pair of heart-pounding, double-overtime victories last series and were 4-0 in the extra frame this postseason.
The Oil Kings were 4-1 in extra time this postseason, including a triple-overtime marathon last round against the Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings.
“We reminded our guys that we have been here five times before and we have had success,” said Harnett in regards to the Oil Kings overtime postseason play.
With the ice still wet, the Oil Kings nearly sent themselves packing, when Keith McMullen deflected a Bisons point shot off his own crossbar.
It wasn’t too much longer until Smithies went down the ice for the winner.
The Bisons will take solace knowing they play in Alberta, and not B.C.
The B.C. midget AAA playoffs are best-of-three series, including the league final.
They still have the chance to run the table and comeback in this series. They are fresh off winning three-straight games against the Calgary Buffaloes in the divisional finals and experienced an eight-game and a seven-game winning streak earlier this season.
But for now, they need to find a way to crack the Oils Kings style of clogging the neutral zone, using their team speed and puck movement to get back into the series.
Game 3 is set for Friday night (8 p.m.) at the Strathmore Family Centre.
“They’re a hot team right now. They’re doing a great job of taking the neutral zone away from us. We need to read around that, go east-west and north to south, get the puck in deep, work the corners and get it into the slot, and hopefully we can get back into this thing,” said Scott.
With the Prince George Cougars hosting the Telus Cup and still alive in the B.C. playoffs, a trip to the Telus Cup could be a win away for the Oil Kings.
“Were not thinking about next round, we haven’t even talked about a potential road trip to B.C. Strathmore is a tough place to play, they’re going to have a great crowd and we need to focus on this series right now,” said Harnett.