The Red Deer Vipers have the Okotoks Bisons right where they want them.
The Vipers trail the Bisons 2-0 in the best-of-five Heritage Junior B Hockey League final after dropping a 4-3 decision at the Arena Saturday.
It means the Vipers can’t afford another loss, which is exactly what happened in their North Division final against the Blackfalds Wranglers. The Vipers trailed the Wranglers 3-0 in the best-of-seven affair before storming back to reach the league final and earn a berth in the provincials.
“I like our chances, we came back from three down against Blackfalds and here we only have to win three straight,” said Vipers head coach Stephen Pattison. “We’ll see what happens, but the guys have confidence.
“It’s a matter of playing our game and focusing on Game 3 (tonight in Okotoks) . . . get a win there and then focus on the next game.”
The Vipers, who lost 7-4 in the first game Friday, opened the scoring Saturday when Kolton Gillett beat Bisons netminder Tyler Hughes at 2:21 on the power play.
However, Dillon Loomer and Jordan Eddy scored at 15:33 and 19:47 to give the Bisons a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Jonathan Finnigan and Travis Mayan put Red Deer ahead in the middle stanza, both scoring with the man advantage.
Once again the Bisons pulled even with a goal from Spencer Samuel and Phil Dillon notched the winner at 15:03 of the third period when he deked a Red Deer defenceman and beat goaltender Brenden Mandrusiak with a perfect shot high to the glove side.
“We let off for 10 minutes in the first period and four in the second and while I thought we played an excellent third period, unfortunately one mistake by one of our guys ends up in the net,” said Pattison.
The Vipers had a glorious opportunity to go ahead earlier in the period, but with the wide open side, the puck slipped past the post.
“That’s hockey at this time of the year,” added Pattison. “We missed a goal by an inch and they get one that’s the difference between a win and a loss.”
The Bisons come into the series as the top team in the league, having lost only twice in regulation all season.
“They have a great team and every mistake we make they score,” said the Red Deer coach. “But our team is one of the only teams to push them every game and I don’t think they like it.”
Even if the Vipers don’t come back they’ll have a shot at winning the provincial title and advancing to the Western Canadians.
“That’s big,” said Pattison. “It’s not that we don’t want to win this, we want to win everything little thing. But we may have another shot at them down the road.
“But for now we told the guys to keep their heads up and see what happens.”
l Mandrusiak finished with 29 saves and Hughes made 31 . . Dustin Spearing, Nick Glackin, Jeffrey Kohut and Colten Brule scored on Friday for Red Deer. Jayden Adrian made 25 saves while the Vipers had 39 shots on goal . . . If a fourth game is needed in the series it goes Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Arena. If a fifth game is necessary it’s Thursday in Okotoks.