Brandon Machado harnessed the spirits of the 1997 Michael Jordan hung-over/flu game and the Martin Gelinas’ Midas Touch streak during the Stanley Cup drive in 2004, to keep the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons season and franchise alive.
After the game, beneath the trampled stands at the Strathmore Family Centre late Friday night, Machado was stumbling around with his hood pulled over his sweat-soaked hair. His handshake was flimsy.
Casper the Friendly Ghost could have given him some tips about his posture and skin pigmentation.
Machado had been bed-ridden all day and didn’t have a solid meal lingering in his belly. But somehow, while looking like a bag of puke, he summoned the strength and endurance to score the double-overtime winner in Game 3 of the Alberta Midget Hockey League finals.
“I don’t know what there is to say about these guys,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry, who, for the first time this season, appeared at a loss of words. “This gives us a legitimate shot now.”
The 4-3 win over the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings provides signs of hope as the Bisons trudge forward, trying to even up the series.
The Oil Kings finished 20 points below the Bisons in the regular season standings, stealing the opening two games in the best-of-five finals.
The crutch that has kept hope alive for the Bisons has been the line of Tarun Fizer, Brett Trentham and Machado has been dynamic all series, and they came up with the biggest play of the finals.
Machado won the puck down low, and dished it off to his captain Trentham on the halfwall as he headed to the net. Trentham sent it over to Landon Melzer at the point, who slap-passed it to Machado standing at the side of the net, tipping in his third overtime goal of the playoffs.
“The guy missed school, laid in bed all day, didn’t eat and we weren’t sure he was going to be able to go tonight. And then, to come out and play like that — there is no way to describe what he was able to pull off tonight,” said Henry.
“It was a do-or-die game. I woke up and I wasn’t feeling great, but I didn’t want our team to go out like that, so I just made it a mental thing and got over it. I just wanted to put everything on the line,” said Machado.
It appeared as if the entire town of Strathmore crammed into the arena, wanting to catch a glimpse at what could have been the last-ever Bisons game.
The Bisons were playing in their fourth double overtime in their past five games. With their backs up against the proverbial wall, they didn’t budge.
Even when they were forced to kill a pair of penalties in overtime, they bent, and didn’t break.
Ben Laidlaw was only credited with 10 saves in overtime, but that in no way measures the magnitude and level of difficulty that was required to keep the puck out of the net.
“We needed Laidlaw to be as big as he was on those penalty kills in overtime. He’s been amazing all year and he was once again for us tonight,” said Henry.
Laidlaw finished with 26 saves and bailed out a few of his defensemen in the third and overtime periods after turnovers deep in the Herd’s zone.
“I thought we played well tonight. Yeah, we turned a couple of pucks over that we shouldn’t have, but we stayed calm and collected, and we recovered from our mistakes pretty well. I’m proud of our guys back there tonight,” said Melzer.
Cayde Augustine probably has a couple giveaways and a suspension he wishes he could take back this year. He can also hang his hat knowing he came up with the best defensive play of his season just prior to Machado’s winner.
The Oil Kings were able to burst out of their own zone in the second overtime. As the last man back, Augustine slid over to the puck handler, erasing him and the scoring chance in one swoop.
Liam Belcourt was a bully all night. He used his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame to smush any Oil King forward that carried the puck beyond the Bisons’ faceoff dot.
“Every line worked their asses off, contributed on both ends of the ice and put everything they had out there,” said Henry. “Now, we got a shot at this thing.”
Joel Krahenbil got the Bisons going in the first when he threw a soft wrister on net and Easton Hesse, who has played well all playoffs with a 0.934 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average, simply whiffed on it.
The Bisons offence is starting to round into form. Over the past two games, guys like Blake Wells, Fizer and Krahenbil, who submitted solid regular seasons but have struggled in the post season, are beginning to find the back of the net.
With less than a minute remaining in the second period, all hell broke loose.
Jaden York came flying down the left wing, shooting on net. Laidlaw stopped him with the left pad, but the rebound popped out to Brendan Morrow (not THAT Brendan Morrow), who shoveled in the go-ahead goal with 44 seconds left.
Nearly 30 seconds later, Zach Huber drove hard to the net, and scored the equalizer with 16 seconds left before recess.
As the horn sounded, there was a dust up to the left of Laidlaw. Someone took exception to a late hit and both lines went at it. The cage rage featured star players from both teams, as refs tried to get things under control.
Fans waited throughout the intermission while the refs untangled the penalty minutes. There was a stink of suspensions looming with the likelihood of game misconducts getting handed out, potentially affecting the lineups for a plausible Game 4.
After the ice was cleared, the announcement was misconducts, four per side, no game misconducts and no suspensions, to everyone’s relief.
Just past the halfway point of the third, Tyler Schendel scored from the point, putting the Oil Kings up one, 8:45 away from a trip to the west coast.
Needing a goal to keep their season alive, one of the Bisons smallest players, Tarun Fizer, exploded through a pair of Oil Kings defenders as if he was the Kool-Aid Man and unleashed a snapshot that would have made Joe Sakic stop and stare.
He uncorked a snapper from just inside the right faceoff dot that blistered past Hesse so quickly, half the crowd didn’t even realize it went in.
“It was a total team effort tonight. We needed all 20 guys to get it done. Now we have to find a way to regroup and take care of business up in Leduc.
This was by far, the Bisons best effort of the series, and an effort that was similar to their style of play in the previous round against the Calgary Buffaloes.
After some rest, buttered toast and Ginger ale, the Bisons will look to build off this momentum win up in Leduc for Game 4, which is set to take place Sunday afternoon.