PENHOLD — If nothing else, the Red Deer College Kings will head into their Alberta College Hockey League semifinal with the favoured NAIT Ooks with the knowledge they’re battle-tested.
The Kings advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a 3-2 victory over the Grant MacEwan Griffins Sunday at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. The RDC squad, which fell 6-4 in Game 2 Saturday at Edmonton, prevailed in a third and deciding game that featured plenty of heavy hits by both sides.
It was desperation hockey at its best.
“A lot of hard miles this weekend, on the bus and on our bodies,” said Kings head coach Trevor Keeper. “It was a typical playoff game. There’s literally a ton of blood on the bench. We had three or four guys who got cut open battling and blocking shots. That’s what we wanted.”
While the Kings outshot their guests 49-35, the game was on the line right to the final buzzer as the Griffins — with netminder Chris Wray on the bench — kept the puck inside the RDC zone for the better part of the final two minutes.
But the home team prevailed and are on to the next round.
“We lost a tough one last night and tonight we pulled it off,” said Kings forward Pat Martens, who scored the winning goal. “It felt good . . . a real team effort.
“We played playoff hockey tonight, a different style of hockey, for sure. It was a good battle.”
After the Griffins opened the scoring with an early goal by Matthew Peddie, the Kings responded when Mike Marianchuk deflected Brett Wold’s point shot past Wray. Blair Mulder then supplied the hosts with a 2-1 lead after one period with a shot from the high slot.
Martens increased the margin to 3-1 with a short-handed breakaway goal at 2:34 of the second period, but the Griffins gradually took control of the play and pulled even late in the frame when Kyle Smart’s tip of a point shot by Tyler Palmer got past Kings netminder Mike Salmon.
The final frame was scoreless, despite RDC firing 22 shots at Wray. Defensively, the Kings didn’t give up much down the stretch.
“We really had to focus on our game plan today,” said Keeper. “We wanted to do that yesterday up there (Edmonton), but it’s tough in their small rink.
“We really focused on what we had to do with our forecheck and D-zone coverage, blocking shots and just the extra little things. We wanted to carry the puck down low in the corners below the goal line and not make cute plays through the high slot, and I thought our guys did a really good job of that.”
The RDC defencemen were nothing short of stellar, particularly in the third period.
“Nobody pinched, everybody protected the middle of the ice. Those are thing they’re supposed to do,” said Keeper. “The biggest thing for me today was that they stayed poised and kept battling. They were focused and there was no panic at all.”
While the Griffins presented the Kings with a big test, the Ooks, who had a first-round bye, present a different challenge altogether.
“They’re an unbelievable team. They set some records this year with something like 10 shutouts,” said Keeper. “They led the league in every category of stats. It’s taken them three to four years to get to the point they’re at, but they’re a solid, veteran team.”
The best-of-three series opens Friday in Edmonton and continues Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at the Multiplex.
• Smart and Blake Grainger each scored twice for the Griffins Saturday. Riley Point tallied twice for the Kings, who got singles from Marianchuk and Doug Jones.
Wray stopped 41 shots for the win, while Kraymer Barnstable made 34 saves in the RDC net.