BLACKFALDS — The Red Deer Vipers are one loss from their season being over, but recent history has them believing a comeback is possible.
The Blackfalds Wranglers took a 3-0 series lead in the best-of-seven Heritage Junior B Hockey League North semifinal on Sunday with a 3-1 win. But all the Vipers have to do is turn the calendar back to the 2012-13 North final when they overcame a 3-0 deficit to advance to the league final with four wins in a row.
For them, the impossible is still possible.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team that were on that team, it’s just tough to do,” said Vipers head coach JD Morrical. “The guys who have been through it before need to lead the team and remind (their teammates) that it is possible and not let anybody get down.”
But Wranglers coach Sean Neumeier says they are focused on looking beyond the past and to the task at hand for them on Tuesday with the opportunity to sweep the Vipers.
For one, the situation was still quite different. While the Wranglers were the top North seed this year and in 2013, the Vipers are far from the same club that finished two points behind Blackfalds in their comeback year. This year they were fourth in the North, 32 points behind the Wranglers.
“They all know what happened in the past, but I’m 100 per cent confident we’ll be ready for Tuesday,” said Neumeier. “I’d like to think that will be the last (game) but we’ve still got to put in a solid effort.”
On Sunday the Vipers played their best game of the series, hanging in until the final minute when Jordan Jakubow put it away with an empty-netter.
Robin Carlson and Jaye Sutherland also scored for the Wranglers while Kyle Baumgardner made 33 saves for the win.
Dustin Spearing scored the lone goal for Red Deer while Klay Munro had a big bounce-back game after a disastrous Game 2, making 33 saves in the loss.
However, they could not score late when they needed it the most, hitting posts and missing on several big chances in the third period.
The Wranglers also played perhaps their most complete game of the series, staying disciplined and shutting down the Vipers when they pressed late.
They were led by their captain and leading scorer Carlson who opened up the scoring at 11:17, doing his best Bobby Orr impression. He broke down the right wing, beat Vipers defenceman Jonathan Finnigan wide, and then cut hard in on Munro, pulling the puck around the keeper while being upended by Finnigan.
It was his third goal and sixth point in two days against Red Deer, Continuing his exploits from the regular season that had him score 92 points (43 goals, 49 assists) in 36 games.
“He’s been so good for us all year in every aspect,” said Neumeier.
“He’s out there in the last minutes taking defensive zone face offs, he’s scoring big goals … he’s very important to us, he’s kind of that thing that gets us going and he’ll pick us up if we’re down.”
It was also a big bounce back game for Baumgardner who was chased after allowing three goals on nine shots before getting pulled in Game 1, which Blackfalds rallied to win 6-4.
“We’ve got such good tandem that we rotate them, they’re mad when they get pulled, as they should be — if they weren’t mad then there’s a problem,” said Neumeier. “I knew he was going to bounce back as they have all year.”
Teams are generally toughest to beat when they are backed into a corner and that’s where the Vipers find themselves. Morrical is not going to let them go quietly into the night on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena.
“We like where we’re at, it’s not over yet, the fourth one is the hardest to win,” said Morrical. “Tonight was our best game for sure.”
NOTES — The Wranglers won Game 2 7-2 at the Red Deer Arena, led by Carlson’s two goals and three assists. Andrew McLennan, Trent Hermary, Jeff Boese, Cole Laing and Quinn Brown also scored for Blackfalds while Thomas Isaman made 33 saves for the win. Cole deGraaf and Mathew Thiessen replied for the Vipers while Klay Munro allowed three goals on 15 shots before getting pulled for Rylan Bardick, who allowed four goals on 25 shots.