The RDC Kings were hoping to use Saturday’s game as a means of clinching third place and also as tune-up for the playoffs, while the Portage College Voyageurs needed a win and some outside aid just to get into the post-season.
The Voyageurs, playing with a sense of urgency, rode the goaltending of Kirby Halcrow and a four-goal performance from Cory Giroux to a 5-2 win at the Penhold Regional Multiplex in the final Alberta Colleges Hockey League regular-season game for both clubs.
Halcrow made 53 saves as the Vovageurs were outshot 55-28 yet atoned for Friday’s 7-4 home-ice loss to the Kings and qualified for the playoffs with a combination of the win and a 4-2 victory by Camrose Augustana over Concordia.
The more they were thwarted by Halcrow, the more the Kings — who finished in fourth place due to the defeat — seemed to lose their cool.
“The biggest concern we have as a coaching staff is the frustration the players showed,” said Kings head coach Trevor Keeper. “It could be immaturity and just the inexperience of having a young team. The guys got frustrated and lost control of their emotions a bit rather than finding a way to get one or two goals.”
Emotions aside, Halcrow was in top form and the Kings may have needed another 40 shots to beat him.
“He’s a big guy and he covers the bottom of the net well,” said Keeper. “We got seven goals on him yesterday and he was making first saves from the outside. But we were getting to the front and getting rebounds up high. Tonight we had a lot of second and third shots and he was still making pad saves and we just couldn’t quite get it through.”
Giroux opened the scoring with a power-play tally midway through the first period and defenceman Kirsten Odendaal replied for the Kings with a man-advantage marker two minutes later, skating into the high slot, taking a corner feed from Riley Simpson and beating Halcrow with a one-timer.
Mike Marianchuk beat Halcrow high to the blocker side at 14:19 and the Kings had a 2-1 lead after the first period. But they never scored again, despite firing 42 shots at the Portage net over the final 40 minutes.
“Kirby has been like that all year,” said Voyageurs head coach Jim Knight. “He has been very consistent, very stellar, and when he’s on he gives us a chance to win. I can’t ask for anything more.”
Giroux scored on a goalmouth tip 1:28 into the second period and Jesse Linner notched the eventual winner at 9:11 during a Portage power play. Then, with the Kings operating with a man advantage, Giroux beat RDC netminder Mike Salmon on a short-handed breakaway to complete a surprising turn of events.
The Portage forward closed out the scoring with his fourth of the game at the 15-minute mark of the third. It was the fourth special-teams goal of the night for the visitors.
“Giroux got four tonight because his linemates were working hard to get pucks and he was in the right spot,” said Knight. “It was a total team effort.
“The last couple of weeks we’ve kind of backed ourselves into a corner. That’s one of the things we talked about going into tonight — that we had our fate in our own hands and we had to get a win by trying to win every shift.
“We were down 2-1 after the first period and I thought we played well outside of the couple of blatant mistakes they (Kings) capitalized on. After that I thought my guys played fairly well.”
While the Voyageurs finished in sixth place and earned a first-round playoff series against third-place Augustana, the Kings will prepare for a quarter-final series with fifth-place Grant MacEwan, a best-of-three set that opens Friday at 7:15 p.m. at Penhold.
“We’re going into the playoffs and we have four days to get ready,” said Keeper, whose squad would have earned a date with Concordia by beating Portage and finishing third.
“It’s nice to be able to pick your opponent, but sometimes it’s better just to be dealt the cards you’re dealt and do what you have to do regardless of who you play,” added the RDC bench boss.