The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs know a thing or two about winning tough hockey games.
And they needed all that experience as the Lloydminster Bobcats gave them everything they had before Jordie Lawson slammed home a rebound at 12:04 of the first overtime period to give the Chiefs a 4-3 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Alberta Midget Hockey League and provincial AAA final at the Arena Tuesday.
“It was certainly exciting, that’s playoff hockey,” said Chiefs head coach Doug Quinn.
“There was a wave of emotions both ways. Things were good, then bad. Lloydminster came to play and played with a lot of desperation. I don’t know how many shots they blocked, but it was a tonne. It was a great effort by both teams.”
The Chiefs never led until Lawson’s goal. The Bobcats grabbed a 1-0 lead at 17:17 of the first period when Chasetan Braid redirected a perfect pass from Kale Clague past Red Deer netminder Jayden Sittler.
The ‘Cats grabbed a 2-0 lead at 8:51 of the second period when Logan Becker scored from the slot on a shot that appeared to deflect off a Red Deer defender.
At that point the Chiefs looked to be in trouble, but Layne Bensmiller got them back in it, beating Lloydminster goalie Austin McGrath at 9:28 on a perfect shot high to the glove side as he came in off the right side.
“That was a big goal,” agreed Quinn. “We started well, but they were taking it to us a bit and following the second goal the energy was a bit low on our bench. Benny’s goal got us going again and we were strong the rest of the way.”
The Chiefs had problems on the power play for most of the game, but it was a power play goal at 8:03 of the third period that tied the game at 2-2. Gabe Bast took a quick feed in the left circle and fired a shot that looked to hit Trey deGraaf in front and beat McGrath.
“That was a nice play by Gabe as he took the D-to-D pass and got it away quickly before they could block it,” said Quinn. “They did a great job on the penalty kill as we tried to get the puck back to the point but we couldn’t get shots through. They seemed to have three or four goalies in front all the time.”
Zachery Fischer gave the Bobcats the lead again at 10:23, scoring on a scramble while on the power play.
Quinn also played a major role in the outcome when he moved Tyler Steenbergen onto a line with Jeff de Wit and deGraaf. DeWit scored the 3-3 goal at 15:23 when he took a feed from Steenbergen after the Red Deer line won a battle along the boards, and his backhand from the slot found the top corner.
“We weren’t clicking and Steener and Jeff played together earlier in the season and I wanted to change the chemistry a bit and that line got us going,” said Quinn.
Red Deer finished with 44 shots on McGrath in regulation while Sittler faced 22. Both teams had chances in overtime, but it was on Red Deer’s 11th shot that Lawson ended it.
“We’re a team that takes a lot of shots and at times we struggle to score, but you never know what can happen when you direct pucks to the net,” said Quinn. “The rebounds are sometimes there and good things can happen. Jordie drove to the net and the puck popped lose and he buried it.”
The role of hero was well deserved for the second-year winger.
“He played a great game. He’s a horse and we double shifted him plus he’s very responsible defensively.”
The series continues Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Lloydminster.
“It would have been tough to lose tonight, then again we played well on the road all season,” continued Quinn. “We won’t change how we play but we expect another battle. They’ll give us everything they have. We need to go in in the right frame of mind and be committed.”
• Sittler finished with 22 saves . . . If a fifth game is necessary it’s Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Arena . . . The winner of the series hosts the B.C. champion Okanagan Rockets, who downed the Vancouver Giants 2-0 in their best-of-three provincial final.