The season started with a 19-game point streak and ended with a furious four-minute scramble as time expired on the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons Telus Cup campaign.
The Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings turned into the 1999-2000 New Jersey Devils – a defensive juggernaut with a lights out goaltender and enough scoring to get by.
After finishing the regular season 14-15-5, the Oil Kings took the playoffs by storm once the regular season ended.
The Oil Kings arrived in the Alberta Midget Hockey League finals with struggling special teams play. A night-and-day reversal once the puck dropped in Game 1, the Oil Kings scored all their goals via special teams in the 3-1 Game 4 clincher against the Bisons Sunday afternoon at Sobeys Arena.
“At the end of the day, I can stand behind this group of guys and say that we did everything we could and I respect them more than anything. We are brothers, we will stick together long past this,” said Bisons captain Brett Trentham.
With the win, the Oil Kings will represent the Pacific division at the Telus Cup.
The Cariboo Cougars downed the Greater Vancouver Canadians 4-0 during Game 3 of the B.C. Midget AAA Hockey League finals. Already hosting the Telus Cup, there is no need to hold the Pacific Championships, as both teams earn an automatic bid into the Telus Cup.
The Oil Kings rode a near-perfect penalty-kill unit all the way to the AMHL title. Amazingly, they finished the playoffs only allowing one short-handed goal on 49 opportunities while picking up a pair of short-handed goals.
Their second shorty of the playoffs came 1:57 into the opening period, when Game 2 double-overtime hero Tyler Smithies picked off a pass deep in the Bisons zone and beat Ben Laidlaw short side.
“When you play a team four times, you figure them out a little bit. We watched video and found out their strengths and weaknesses. We have been killing penalties all year long and our power play improved since last series,” said Oil Kings head coach Taylor Harnett.
The Oil Kings power play was on life support entering the final. Operating at a 10.8 per cent clip though the first three rounds. Harnett’s crew turned things around and scored seven times on the man advantage against the Bisons.
“We studied ourselves, worked on improvements in practice and went out and executed. We found a way to beat them and were lucky to get pucks through. Once you get pucks through, anything can happen,” said Harnett.
Trailing 1-0 into the second period, the Bisons started hitting their offensive groove when they began pounding the Oil Kings on the back wall.
Tyson Scott stole the puck below the goal line and found Blake Wells crashing to the net in the slot. Wells slide it in five-hole for his second goal of the series.
Unfortunately, for the Bisons, they couldn’t stay out of the penalty box.
On the penalty kill, Cole Clayton went to clear the puck on the backhand, when his stick got jammed into the boards. A crack in the boards for the Zamboni opening sucked up the toe of his stick, keeping the play alive for the Oil Kings.
Shortly after, Trysten Brookman scored his second of the playoffs and the eventual winner on the power play from Ryan Straschnitzki.
The Bisons tried to mount a comeback, but another trip to the box all but sealed the Herd’s fate.
The Seattle Thunderbirds released Dillon Hamaliuk earlier this season, after the AMHL roster deadline, so he was only able to play seven regular season games as an affiliated player for the Oil Kings.
He tipped in Straschnitzki’s point shot on the power play in the third to give him the playoff scoring title and the extra insurance needed to capture the league title.
“We couldn’t stay out of the penalty box and we couldn’t find the back of the net on the power play when we needed it. That was the difference; they get two power play goals tonight and we lose by two. That was something we hoped to sure up, but they did a good job on their side making their special teams work,” said Henry.
Brandon Machado scored the double-overtime winner in Game 3. His efforts were needed to extend the series, but it also cost him a chance to play in Game 4, as he was far too ill to compete in Game 4.
Missing Machado — the centreman on the Bisons most dangerous line all series — the Bisons called up Tucker Zdunich.
Zdunich slid in nicely, having played in significant games earlier this postseason with the Bisons, and shared a line with Boaz Bassen and Tyler Petrie.
The Bisons were buzzing late, but time after time, Easton Hesse stood his ground, denying the Herd on his way to the first provincial title in franchise history.
“After a series like that, you’ve always got to look back at your goaltending, and Easton was an absolute beast in the past two rounds. He was a major reason we are celebrating today and heading to the Telus cup,” said Harnett.
The Oil Kings will take some time off, regroup and plan for the Telus Cup, which gets underway at the end of April in Prince George, B.C.
As for the Bisons, the offseason could mark the end of an era.
After 24 seasons in Strathmore, it appears that the Bisons could be leaving the Family Centre for good. Hockey Alberta hasn’t released anything official, but league rumours suggest that the end has come.
“We wanted to make a deep run and go out on a bang in case this was the last season for the Bisons in Strathmore,” said Trentham. “It’s a tough way to go out. At the end of the day, they won and we lost. It sucks, but that’s how life goes.”
R.I.P. Seb Gardner. I’m going to miss my friend a great deal.