Perhaps the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs were already in celebration mode.
The Chiefs, with a 2-0 series lead, had an opportunity to close out their Alberta Midget Hockey League South Division semifinal with the UFA Bisons Sunday at the Arena, but as it turned out it was an opportunity wasted.
The Bisons got a 45-save performance from goaltender Carter Seminuk and took advantage of their scoring chances to post a 4-2 win over their hosts and prolong the best-of-five set. Game 4 is set for Tuesday at Strathmore.
The Red Deer squad was outshot 13-8 and outscored 1-0 in the opening period, but carried the play the rest of the way.
“I thought we certainly started competing harder after the first period, but we had some real breakdowns defensively and they’re a team that has some skill and is very opportunistic,” said Chiefs head coach Doug Quinn.
While he agreed that Seminuk was lights out, Quinn felt his club’s first-period showing was reflective of the players’ train of thought heading into the contest.
“Their goalie played really well, but I thought in the first period we weren’t ready to play,” said the Rebels bench boss, who watched Chad Harrison stake the Bisons to an early lead.
“Unfortunately, sometimes kids at this age can get up by two wins and think because they’re coming back home it’s going to be easy,” said Quinn. “But you know the other team is going to play with a certain level of desperation. We were just kind of flat-footed in the first.”
Red Deer forward Ross Heidt knotted the count late in the second period when he converted a two-on-one break with Trey deGraaf, but the Bisons responded in the final minute of the frame as Matthew Forchuk beat Red Deer netminder Jayden Sittler high to the blocker side with the visitors on the power play.
Red Deer Rebels prospect Mason McCarty increased the Bisons’ lead to two on a one-timer from the low slot midway through the final frame. Heidt stuck for his second of the afternoon just under two minutes later — following a faceoff win and assist by Jeff de Wit, another Rebels prospect — but UFA defenceman Brayden Biccum scored on a wrist shot from the point at 14:01 to seal the deal.
The final shots on goal read 47-23 in Red Deer’s favour, but the Bisons were able to steal the win and get back into the series.
“They have just a hell of a team,” said Bisons head coach Dan MacDonald, in reference to the Chiefs. “We’re both good-skating clubs, but they’re a little bigger. I don’t think they have to work as hard as we do in the corners.
“You always want to make a series of it. Playing against a team like that, a very strong team, we have to do our very best to stay even with them and to come out with a win is a big bonus. Our goaltender was outstanding. He’s had moments like that this season and tonight he was very good.”
The Optimist Chiefs remain in the driver’s seat with a 2-1 series lead and the knowledge that they will host a fifth game, if necessary, Friday at 8 p.m. at the Arena.
“The minute you think it’s going to be easy, usually that’s when it starts going sideways. It can be tough,” said Quinn. “We’re a little disappointed but in a short series you have to regroup quickly, learn from some of your mistakes and move on.”
The winner of the series will face the Calgary Buffaloes in the South final. The Buffaloes completed a semifinal sweep of the Calgary Royals with a 4-0 win Sunday.