BLACKFALDS — A desperate team is suddenly a team with momentum.
The Red Deer Vipers staved off elimination for the second night in a row Thursday, downing host Blackfalds 6-2 to cut the Wranglers’ lead in the best-of-seven Heritage Junior B Hockey League Northern Division final to 3-2.
Game 6 will be played Saturday at the Red Deer Arena, starting at 8 p.m. If the Vipers win, a deciding game will go 24 hours later at the Blackfalds Multiplex.
“We didn’t play our best and got down three games. But we realized it’s a do or die situation and I think any team in that situation is going to play with all their heart and that’s what the boys are doing right now,” said Vipers captain Braden Corbett following the Game 5 victory.
“We’re showing a ton of character and all lines are going. We have everyone going right now and it’s working for us.”
Kolton Gillett snapped a 2-2 tie with a goal midway through the second period, beating Layne Swier from the right faceoff circle with the Wranglers netminder down and out after making a save.
The Vipers then put the game away with a trio of third-period goals, including back-to-back markers by Jeff Kohut just under three minutes apart. Corbett added an empty-net goal at 18:27.
“Like I told the guys, the only thing we’re worried about now is the first shift Saturday and what we have to do shift in and shift out to get the job done,” said Red Deer coach Stephen Pattison. “I’m proud of the boys, top to bottom it was another 60-minute effort. The boys just continue to play hard and play for each other. That’s the biggest thing.”
The first period ended in a 2-2 tie, with Cole DeGraaf and Chris Robertson (power play) scoring for the Vipers and the Wranglers getting goals from Jared Guilbault and Jason Bell. On Guilbault’s goal, the puck bounced in front of the Red Deer net and eluded Brenden Mandrusiak.
The Vipers’ netminder more than made up for the mistake with a pair of crucial second-period saves, stopping Dylan Wiedmer on a partial break and then robbing Jared Kambeitz, who broke in alone. Mandrusiak stopped 30 shots overall after making 34 saves in Red Deer’s 5-0 home-ice win Wednesday.
“Manny is playing unbelievable, he’s making the big saves that we need to keep the momentum going our way,” said Corbett. “We rely on him and he’s doing a hell of a job.”
Layne Swier was busy in the Blackfalds net, turning aside 45 shots. The Wranglers were assessed nine of 11 minor penalties.
And so the teams are off to a sixth game with the Vipers riding the high of two successive one-sided wins.
“There’s been a shift in our attitude. I can feel it,” said Pattison.
“In the dressing room, on the bench, there’s been a shift in attitude. The boys are starting to believe in each other.
“We were in a deep hole and we’re starting to get out of it, but the job’s not completely done. We know Blackfalds is going to come out Saturday again and try to get this thing done. Hey, it’s playoff hockey.”
Added Corbett: “The emotions are high right now and we just have to keep it rolling into Saturday.”
The winner of the series will meet the Okotoks Bisons — who swept the Medicine Hat Cubs in the Southern final — for the league championship. Both teams will advance to the provincials April 4-7 at Wainwright.
l The Wranglers were minus the services of top scorer Jared Williams Thursday. The team captain suffered a shoulder injury in the third period of Wednesday’s contest.