The Red Deer Vipers let up somewhat in the late stages of Thursday’s Heritage Junior B Hockey League playoff game at the Arena.
Of course, at that point they had already sewn up a victory over the Airdrie Thunder in Game 3 of the Northern Division semifinal. The Vipers grabbed a 2-1 lead in the series with a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven which continues tonight with an 8 p.m. puck drop at Airdrie.
Holding a 3-2 lead and aided by four unanswered Thunder penalties, the Vipers got an insurance goal from Kolton Gillett midway through the third period and would have added two or three more if not for the impressive play of visiting netminder James Fisk, who blocked 21 shots in the final frame.
“We had to have this one but the job is not done yet and we have to keep our focus,” said Vipers coach Stephan Pattison. “This was just one game out of four more that could potentially be left.”
While the Vipers were able to take a slim lead into the third period thanks to a hat trick performance from Cole DeGraaf, they weren’t at their best through the first 40 minutes. That led to a second intermission message from the coaching staff.
“The boys played well (in the third period), they listened to what we had to say,” said Pattison. “The strategy near the end of the game was to go a little more passive, just get pucks in deep and let them play with it in their end.
“The boys responded well. We told them they have to respect the bluelines of both teams. You win the lines, you should win the game.”
DeGraaf connected just 1:41 into the contest and then snapped a 1-1 tie with his second of the evening — on the power play — four minutes later. The Red Deer forward completed his hat trick at 6:12 of the middle frame to give the hosts a 3-1 lead.
Aidan Crowther (power play) and Gavin Klein scored for Airdrie, while Fisk made 38 saves. Red Deer netminder Brenden Mandrusiak stopped 36 shots.
Game 5 of the series is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Arena.
l The Blackfalds Wranglers grabbed a 3-0 stranglehold in their best-of-seven North semifinal with a 6-1 victory Thursday over the visiting Mountainview Colts.
Details were unavailable.
The teams will hook up in the fourth and possibly final game of the series Saturday at Didsbury (8 p.m. start).