There wasn’t much gas left in the tank, but goal scorers always seem to find a way.
At 16:56 of triple overtime Thursday night, Red Deer Vipers forward Kale Lapointe who leads all players in Heritage Junior B Hockey League scoring these playoffs, found a loose puck and deposited it over the outstretched glove of Cochrane netminder Ty Robinson.
The goal sent the Collicutt Centre into a frenzy and clinched an HJHL title for the Vipers at home in game four of the best-of-five series. It was the Vipers first league championship since 2004.
“Really I didn’t have much legs left, so I was just going to the net with my stick down, the puck came to me – I didn’t even see it go in. I just shot, then got mauled,” said Lapointe who finished the playoffs with 14 goals and 35 points in 19 games and also had four points in the win.
Red Deer head coach JD Morrical said he was proud of his group for the resiliency they showed against the league’s top team, including closing out the victory after letting go of a 3-1 lead.
“It was an absolute battle from the start of the series until now. We haven’t really been in any overtime games this whole playoffs,” he said.
“We were a little nervous, once we got through the first two, we knew it would be a lucky break and bounce in front of the net, we just kind of stuck to the plan… good finish, it was awesome, we haven’t won this trophy in 12 years I bet.”
In the win Thursday, after the Vipers gave up the opening goal in the first, they responded with three unanswered goals in the second to take a commanding 3-1 lead into the third period.
Lapointe scored first, Spencer Yeats added a goal at 16:52 and Carter Trenerry netted his second goal of the playoffs to secure the 3-1 advantage.
The Generals turned the tables in the final 20 minutes, With Connor Rendell scoring at 7:23 then adding a power play marker at 12:23.
Despite giving up the two-goal lead, Morrical said he was confident his team could close out the game in overtime.
“It was just crazy. We picked shooters like they do in the NHL and Mike (Strickland) picked Kale to score,” Morrical said.
“Just awesome to see. These guys worked hard all year and to have some success and get one of their goals, it’s awesome.”
Lapointe added: “We blew the 3-1 lead going in the third, but we pulled it off. I’m on top of the world. Good send off for the 21-year-olds.”
Vipers goalie Brandon Bilodeau was phenomenal in the win with 51 saves. The half-century mark worth of stops including two point blank opportunities that the Generals thought had ended the game.
The Vipers have been comeback kids all playoffs long, including upsetting the top three teams in the league en route to the title and will carry significant momentum into the Alberta Junior B Provincials.
“We knew it was going to be tough. We beat Airdrie they were number three, we beat Mountainview they were number two and this was the next step. We got hot at the right time and hopefully can keep in going,” Morrical said.
Both the Vipers and Generals will head to St. Paul to play in the provincial final starting on March 30.