It was anything but a homer series.
In fact, all three games in the Heritage Junior Hockey League North Division survivor series were won on enemy ice, including Saturday’s decisive contest at the Arena, where the Three Hills Thrashers pulled out a 3-1 win over the host Red Deer Vipers.
Recently-appointed Vipers head coach JD Morrical, whose club lost Game 1 of the best-of-three set on home ice and forced a third game with a 6-4 win Friday at Three Hills, suggested his players never had enough time to ingest the system he put into place.
“The guys bought into the system but it was just too much information too quickly,” said Morrical, who replaced Stephen Pattison as the club’s bench boss just prior to the first game of the series. “The players bought in hard and played good last night, but tonight we just didn’t have it.”
Following a scoreless opening period, Lucas Jones gave the Thrashers a 1-0 lead 25 second into the middle frame. Dustin Spearing replied for the Vipers at 5:45 and Kelby Stevens potted the eventual winner for the visitors at 14:11.
Three Hills carried the play in the third period until the final five minutes. The Red Deer squad poured on the pressure, especially during a late power play, but couldn’t beat Thrashers netminder Brady Hoover.
With just over a minute remaining, Conner Ablett scored into an empty net to seal the deal for Three Hills.
Hoover, who finished with 29 saves, made a series of big-time stops down the stretch.
“He’s a great goalie. We were able to solve him the first two nights but it just wasn’t our time tonight,” said Morrical, who said he’ll be back as the club’s head coach next season.
While Hoover was spectacular when it mattered, Anthony Hamill was no slouch at the other end. The Vipers netminder, in fact, was the busier of the two while turning aside 41 shots.
“We had a good game. I thought we played our best game of the series tonight, a whole 60 minutes,” said Three Hills head coach Ian Hall.
While the Vipers held home-ice advantage in the series, the outcome could be labelled as just a narrow upset.
“There was only a two-point difference between the teams (fourth-place Red Deer and fifth-place Three Hills),” said Hall. “The teams are similar and play similar styles.”
l It was a short turn-around for the Thrashers, who traveled to Blackfalds Sunday and were hammered 10-3 by the Wranglers in the opening game of a best-of-seven North Division semifinal.
Jared Guilbault fired three goals and Robin Carlson sniped a pair for the Wranglers. Tiaan Anderson, Chance Abbott, Bryce Boguski, Trent Hermary and Garrett Glasman also scored for Blackfalds, while Russell Olsen scored twice for Three Hills, which got a single goal from Aaron Neumeier.
Thomas Isaman turned aside 29 shots in the Blackfalds net. Brody Dirk made 37 saves for the Thrashers.
The series continues Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Three Hills.
l In the other North Division semifinal, Landon Potter notched the winning goal at 11:58 of the third period as the Stettler Lightning downed the Mountainview Colts 5-4 Saturday at Didsbury to take a 2-0 series lead.
Potter tallied twice for the winners, who got single goals from Adam Ternes, Jake Schwarzenberger and Dylan Houston while firing 38 shots at Colts netminder Connor Slipp.
Simon Thieleman made 36 saves for the Lightning, who led 2-0 after one period and were tied with their hosts 3-3 after 40 minutes.
Stettler grabbed a 1-0 series lead at home Friday, defeating the Colts 4-1 on the strength of Thieleman’s 38-save performance. Kyler O’Connor, Connor Doucette, Randon Rankin and Dylan Houston scored for the Lightning, who were outshot 39-30.
The third game of the series goes Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in Stettler.