BLACKFALDS — Down 3-0 in the best-of-seven Heritage Junior B Hockey League Northern Division final, the Red Deer Vipers were heavy longshots to rally and win the series.
Someone should have taken that bet.
The Vipers climbed partially out of the hole with a pair of convincing victories, scraped out a 3-2 win in Game 6 at the Red Deer Arena and completed the unlikely comeback with a 4-2 win over the host Blackfalds Wranglers Sunday in front of an overflow crowd at the Multiplex.
Red Deer will face the Okotoks Bisons in the league championship series. Both teams will advance to the provincials April 4-7 at Wainwright.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know. It’s playoff hockey,” said Vipers coach Stephen Pattison, in reference to his club’s stunning rally.
The Vipers led 2-1 after one period on goals by Kolton Gillett and Brad VanGrinsven. Jared Kambeitz scored for the Wranglers.
Chris Robertson increased Red Deer’s cushion to two goals with a power-play marker at 12:07 of the second period, but Blackfalds struck back just 30 seconds later when a streaking Chance Abbott buried a perfect feed from Jared Williams.
The Wranglers had their chances in the final frame, but when they were able to work into scoring range they couldn’t solve netminder Brenden Mandrusiak. Then, with Blackfalds netminder Layne Swier on the bench, Vipers captain Braden Corbett chipped the puck past a defenceman and notched an empty-net goal with 64 seconds remaining.
Game, set and series.
“There was something that happened in Game 4, even at the end of Game 3. I felt it, we all felt it on the bench and in the room,” said Pattison. “There was a turn. Everyone starting pulling for each other and it was every game, shift in and shift out. The boys played for each other and it was a beautiful thing to watch.
“I’ve told the boys all year long that I believe in them. They’re great hockey players, every single one of them. They represent the crest on the front of the jersey. I know the coaching staff believes in them and they should believe in each other because they are a good hockey team.”
Mandrusiak turned aside 29 shots, while Swier made 33 saves.
On Saturday, Gillett’s goal at 6:45 of the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and the Wranglers hung on for the victory while getting a 42-save performance from Mandrusiak.
Adam Ferguson and Jeffery Kohut also scored for the Vipers, who directed 36 shots at Swier. Jason Bell and Jared Ramstead notched the Blackfalds goals.