With overtime looming, Red Deer Optimist Chiefs captain Gabe Bast took matters into his own hands and secured a richly-deserved Alberta Midget Hockey League playoff win for his club Sunday at the Arena.
The second-year defenceman took a feed from Trey deGraaf, busted down the right boards and beat Calgary Buffaloes netminder Logan Thompson on the short side to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead at 16:45 of the third period. The home side protected the cushion over the final three minutes and grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five South Division final.
Thompson appeared to leave some open space on his blocker side while anticipating Bast to return the puck to Trey deGraaf, who was breaking down the middle.
Whatever . . .
“DeGraaf made a nice play to get me the puck. I saw a spot and just flicked it over top of him (Thompson),” said Bast.
The Chiefs roared out of the gate and had a 2-0 lead before the game was six minutes old. Ross Heidt took a pass from Jeff de Wit and scored on a breakaway at 2:06, and Chase Olsen cashed a rebound from a scramble just over three minutes later with Red Deer on a power play.
The visitors got one back when Anthony Orubor notched a man-advantage goal at the seven-minute mark, then pulled even on Jackson McKinstry’s second of the playoffs 3:43 into the second period.
The Chiefs pushed the pace through much of the middle frame and again in the third, but couldn’t solve Thompson until Bast came through with the winner.
“It wasn’t an easy game,” said Bast. “Their goaltender played well and they’re a good team. The rest of the games in this series are going to be tight-checking and low-scoring.”
Thompson held the visitors in the game with a 41-save performance, but Red Deer head coach Doug Quinn wasn’t overjoyed with his club’s outing.
“I’m happy with the win, but I think we have more to give,” he said. “I thought after we got up we kind of sat back a bit, especially in the second period.
“Sometimes you’re not always going to play a perfect game. Gabe made a great individual effort near the end to salvage a win for us, but we definitely need to be better next game.”
Game 2 is set for Wednesday at Calgary’s South Fish Creek Arena and Quinn anticipates that the Buffaloes will be extra difficult at home.
“They’ve been one of the best teams down the stretch, something like 14-1,” said the Chiefs coach. “They’re really well coached and today they did a good job of cutting off our speed.
“We need to be better, I thought we lost a lot of one-on-one battles today . I’m happy with the win, but as a coach I’m never satisfied.”
The third game of the series will be played Friday (8 p.m. start) at the Arena.