The Red Deer Vipers waited 12 months to avenge their opening round playoff loss to the Three Hills Thrashers, and Tuesday they came out firing.
The Vipers beat the Thrashers 7-4 in the best-of-three Heritage Junior B Hockey League quarter-final at the Red Deer Arena, a game with almost as many cheap shots as goals.
“The guys that played last year don’t like any team in the league, especially the guys that beat them out last year,” said Vipers head coach JD Morrical. “They definitely want to beat them and it’s showing. They were very pumped up for this game and I know they will be Thursday too.”
Cole DeGraaf and Dustin Spearing scored twice for Red Deer while Nick Glackin, Tony Neurauter and Justin Corbett had the other goals. Klay Munro made 23 saves on 27 shots for the win.
Three Hills responded with goal by Russell Olson, Kelby Stevens, Cody Phillips and Connor Ablett while Brady Hoover made 43 saves in the loss.
The game was much closer than the three goal discrepancy on the scoreboard.
The two teams were tied 5-5 a with 5:48 to go when Spearing broke the deadlock as he snuck a power-play marker past Hoover. Thirty seconds later Corbett was left a lone in the slot and he ripped a shot past Hoover to give the home team a little bit of breathing room.
Spearing iced the game with an empty netter.
For Thrashers head coach Ian Hill, the game turned on a missed opportunity with the man advantage after Glackin ran Hoover at 11:38 of the third period.
“We didn’t really have any urgency or get any shots on goal during that power play, then we took a penalty and it kind of went off the rails from there,” he said.
The Vipers entered the series playing some of their best hockey of the season, taking most of the year to come together after a turbulent 2013-14 campaign which included Morrical being brought in as head coach just before the start of the playoffs.
Red Deer held a 3-1-0 advantage in the head-to-head match ups heading into the series, but their biggest edge was on offence where they scored 42 more goal, or more than a goal a game difference.
That firepower was on display on Tuesday, matching goals with the Thrasher through the first 30 minutes, including a stretch of four goals between the two teams in the opening 2:49 of the second period. Then when they needed a goal late, Spearing came through with two.
“It’s all coming together, I would have preferred to win 2-0 but it’s 7-4 and that’s fine, it’s a win. ,” said Morrical. “We needed to win on home ice, and that’s why we battled for home ice.”
The game was also a bit of a throw back to the Jungle B days of yore with both teams dishing out their share of dirty plays with several scuffles breaking out. This included three Thrashers jumping Glackin behind the Three Hills net after he ran Hoover.
But Morrical says they are prepared to play the game on either the ice or the back alley, as it were.
“In games like that, it kind of favours us,” he said. “The boys are pretty tough and they kind of like that stuff, it almost makes them play better when it’s like that.”
The series now shifts back to Three Hills on Thursday at 8 p.m. where Hills is hoping they are able to take advantage of a change of scenery.
“We’re happy to be going home,” he said. “The nice thing about (the short series) is we get to go home and have a chance to do something about it there.”
If the Thrashers do win, Game 3 will be back at the Red Deer Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. Morrical does not want it to get to that point.
“(Elimination games) are always stressful and they’re anybody’s night,” said Morrical. “We’ve had real good luck in Three Hills this season and we are real comfortable, so I don’t see a problem, but it’s their season on the line, so they’re going to be coming hard.”