PENHOLD — There are times when a goaltender has to step up and be a team leader.
Mike Salmon did that in more ways than one Sunday in leading the RDC Kings to a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the SAIT Trojans at the Penhold Regional Multiplex and a 2-1 win in the best-of-three Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League quarter-final series.
Salmon finished with 45 saves and was especially brilliant in the opening period with 18 saves.
“Mike is very prepared with a great attitude,” said Kings head coach Trevor Keeper. “You can see it in his body language and confidence.”
But Salmon is a leader even off the ice.
“He got the guys up this morning (following their 6-1 loss at SAIT Saturday) and took them to Can-Pro for a spin and a team stretch. It wasn’t suggested by the coaching staff, he did it on his own and that showed me his dedication and commitment to winning.”
While Salmon was the RDC player of the game, he shared the spotlight with winger Tyler Berkholtz, who slammed home a loose puck past SAIT netminder Bolton Pouliot at 2:45 into overtime for the game winner.
The Kings top line of Berkholtz, who also scored Saturday, Doug Jones and Riley Simpson, were able to break out with both Jones and Simpson having scoring chances before the puck squirted out to Berkholtz, who was alone to the right of Pouliot.
The goal put a lid on an excellent game by the Kings line as all three scored.
“I sent them all a text message today and challenged them a bit,” said Keeper.
“I told them the best line doesn’t always have to be the best line for some games but in the playoffs it does. When it’s do or die they have to show up and tonight they did.”
Jones got the Kings on the board at 11:08 of the first period, redirecting in a shot from in front while on the power play. Michael Puddifant tied the game with a screened shot from the point while killing a penalty at 10:38 of the second period. Simpson gave the Kings the lead again at 16:43 when he got the puck off the faceoff and cut across in front and picked the top corner to Pouliot’s glove side.
Once again the Kings power play did them in in the third period with Hunter Mills scoring while shorthanded just 38 seconds into the frame.
“SAIT put a lot of pressure on our power play,” said Keeper. “We weren’t score upon all season while on the power play, but they got a few against us. But the one thing I noticed our guys never panicked, no one was nervous and everyone was supportive and played hard for each other.”
After Mills tied it both teams had excellent chances, but couldn’t beat Salmon or Pouliot.
“It was a tough series, a physical series,” said Keeper. “We won that first game 6-1 and they win 6-1 on Saturday in a game that was a tough game, which reminded me of 1980s senior hockey. Tonight we talked with the guys before the game and said that it was a series of nine periods with six over and we’re tied 7-7. We said we have three periods and we have to do what we do at home in our comfort zone.”
The Kings defence is also much younger than the Trojans, but were solid as was the line of Regan Wilton, Ben Williams and Logan Sceviour, whose job it was to check the Trojans No. 1 unit.
“Our defence did a good job in our zone. We gave up a lot of shots, but so did they. I thought our guys battled hard against big, strong men.
“As for the Wilton, Williams and Sceviour line they matched up against their top unit in both our home games and did a great job. They went out and did whatever it took.”
The Kings finished with 42 shots on Pouliot.
The Kings now face the undefeated NAIT Ooks in a best-of-three semifinal series, which opens Friday at 7 p.m. at NAIT. The second game goes Saturday at 7 p.m. in Penhold with the third game, if necessary, Sunday at NAIT.
The Keyano Huskies, who downed Grant MacEwan 3-2 Sunday to win the other quarter-final series 2-1, face Augustana in the other semifinal.