SYLVAN LAKE — Kraft Hockeyville provided a week few in Sylvan Lake will forget any time soon, including its storybook finish.
With less than two minutes to go in overtime, it was two Central Albertans that won it for the Calgary Flames as Curtis Glencross tipped home a Kris Russell point shot for the 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Originally the goal was waived off, the deflection being ruled to have been made above the crossbar, but after a conference between the officials at centre ice the goal was called good.
There was little doubt in the 31-year-old Sylvan Lake resident’s mind.
“It was fun and exciting, I was just hoping the refs made the right call,” said Glencross. “Russ made a nice shot and put it in the spot where we practice every day.”
The Flames had rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to tie the game with 10 seconds to go in the second period, as Sven Baertschi slipped a wrist shot through goalie Mike McKenna. Brian McGrattan and Deryk Engelland also scored for the Flames while Matt Kassian, Joe Vitale and B.J. Crombeen replied for Arizona.
This game was a big moment for Sylvan Lake on the national stage. They won the right to host the NHL pre-season game after winning the annual Kraft Hockeyville contest, along with $100,000 to go towards a new multiplex after the old Sylvan Lake arena collapsed under the weight of snow this past winter.
Teams were given the red carpet treatment as they arrived for the nationally televised contest while 1,000 fans packed the multiplex and at least that many more gathered outside for the once-in-a-lifetime event.
It was not lost on the players, some of whom played in the old arena many times on visiting teams while growing up.
“It’s probably something I would never have forgot … I remember being one of those kids and going to the odd Oilers game that I would get to go to in Edmonton, and being one of the kids in awe and standing there wanting an autograph,” said Glencross, who grew up in Provost. “It was nice we had the opportunity going in today to stop and chat with all the kids and sign all the stuff they had to sign.”
Russell, meanwhile, was born in Red Deer but grew up in Caroline.
McGrattan, who tied the game at 2-2 at 1:59 of the second period, finishing off a two-on-one rush with Markus Granlund, has experienced Hockeyville once before while as a member of the Ottawa Senators in 2006. That year McGrattan was a rookie trying to crack the Senators lineup, but they lost 7-3 to the Montreal Canadiens in Truro, N.S.
For him, it was another reminder of what it was like to be a little kid and getting a chance to interact with his hockey heros while growing up in Hamilton, Ont.
“I grew up a Leafs fan, so I went to their skate with the players and meet the players days and it was always cool meeting guys and getting autographs,” he said.
This game did not start out much better for his current team.
The Coyotes opened the scoring at 8:56 of the first period as Lloydminster native Darian Dziurzynski fired a hard shot in on goalie Joni Ortio on the rush, he kicked out a big rebound and Kassian fired it into the gaping cage.
Arizona stretched the lead to two goals at 12:51 after Ortio mishandled a rebound and Vitale was there to bat the puck in out of mid-air.
The Flames showed some early season resolve and battled back as Engelland ripped a point shot through a maze of players on the power play at 19:06 of the first period.
After McGrattan tied it up early in the second, however, it did not take long for the Coyotes to re-take the lead, as Crombeen drove to the front of the net and deflected a hard pass from Chris Summers past Ortio at 3:06.
Once again, the Flames came back as Baertschi wristed a shot past McKenna at 19:50 of the second period.
Neither team managed to score in the third period, but Calgary caught a break in the four-on-four overtime when Summers was called for holding at 2:13, allowing the Flames to set up a four-on-three power play. They made no mistake.
“I told the players this morning ‘remember those people coming to the game, they had to fight real hard to get this game …’ and since it’s right close to our market, I think we owed this game to the fans,” said Flames head coach Bon Hartley. “They were great, there were lots of Flames jerseys in the stands and they’re going home happy.”
Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett took the pre-season loss in stride, focusing on the many different scenarios they were able to work through and the chance to evaluate players.
“You put kids in these situations and you see how they reacted,” he said. “It’s not just kids … you’ve got (Sam) Gagner, you’ve got Vitale — new players to our organization — it’s a good time to see what they can do also.”
The Flames improve to 2-1-0 in pre-season play and will now host the Vancouver Canucks tonight at 7 p.m. They are already showing the same kind of dogged toughness that was their trademark last year, despite finishing 35-40-7 and in 13th place in the Western Conference.
“We just want to keep rolling, it starts now, doing the right things now,” said Glencross. “We want to push like we did last year coming down the stretch, but we don’t want to put ourselves behind the eight-ball early and we want to come out flying and ready to go.”
NOTES — Calgary forward Mason Raymond did not dress for the game after going through warm up, suffering a leg injury … First round pick Sam Bennett sat out the game with a minor injury as well, but is expected to play tonight when they host the Vancouver Canucks at 7 p.m. … The Flames were 2-for-5 on the power play, the Coyotes were 0-for-6 with the man-advantage … Ortio made 11 saves on 14 shots through 40 minutes, Doug Carr stopped all nine shots he faced through the third period and overtime. McKenna stopped 25 shots through two periods, Brendan Burke stopped seven of eight shots.