Northstars 5 Rustlers 4 (Daysland leads best-of-five series 2-0)
The Red Deer Rustlers have a big hole to climb out of.
Red Deer had plenty of chances Sunday at home to put away the Daysland Northstars and even the best-of-five North Central Senior AA Hockey League final at one game apiece – only they were simply unable to close it out.
After losing Game 1 8-2 in Daysland, Red Deer had a pair of one-goal leads in Game 2 in Penhold, but trailed 4-3 late and needed a Tyler Berkholtz tally just to send the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, both teams had chances to clinch the crucial victory before Northstars forward Tylor Keller backhanded home the winner just past the midway point.
“It looked like inconsistency. Moments where we played well and we had success and moments where we sat back on our heels and they’re too good of a team to waste minutes,” said Rustlers forward Kyle Pess.
The Rustlers looked good in the first 20 minutes, with a pair of goals for Jaret Smith before Daysland got within a goal.
Just 31 seconds into the second, Colin Zimmer forced a turnover and buried to tie the game at two.
Red Deer battled back in front seven minutes later, when Dylan Houston took a nice feed from Pess to open up a 3-2 lead.
The home side held possession for much of the second and into the third, but the inability to convert that into a goal hurt when Zach Ayotte notched the equalizer for Daysland.
“It was tough to blow a couple leads like that in the span of 70 minutes,” Pess said.
In a three minute stretch just past the midway point of the third, Red Deer missed on a pair of two-on-ones and a breakaway and that once again proved costly.
Late in the period, the Northstars cashed in another rebound to take their first lead of the game.
Red Deer put all kinds of pressure on the visitors from there and finally, Berkholtz broke through with 91 seconds left in regulation.
“It was great we tied it up with a minute and change left but with a little more time, momentum would have been nice, rather than having to cool off in between periods,” Pess said.
Connor Dobberthien was huge in the win for Daysland with 50 saves, while Mike Salmon was also solid for Red Deer with 38 stops.
The Rustlers are on the verge of elimination heading into Game 3 Friday in Daysland, but Pess said with a veteran group, they know what they have to do to climb back into the series.
“We knew we would have to win one in their rink either way, so it might as well be this one. Then come back and hopefully have a little momentum coming back and who knows what happens in Game 5, if we can pull off those two,” he said.
Game 3 is Friday in Daysland and Game 4 if necessary would be Saturday in Penhold at 8:15 p.m.