The Sylvan Lake Wranglers have a knack for the dramatics early in the 2020 Heritage Junior B Hockey League playoffs.
Just 24 hours after a wild, come-from-behind overtime win against the Red Deer Vipers on the road in game 1 of the best-of-seven North Division semifinal, Sylvan Lake needed some late-game heroics on home ice.
Game 2 Sunday in Sylvan Lake followed much the same script as the opener, with the Vipers jumping out ahead early, only to have the Wranglers rally in the third. Red Deer led 4-2 after 40 minutes and were in the driver’s seat.
The rallying Wranglers rose the challenge in the third, erasing the two-goal deficit in the final three minutes of the game and sent it to overtime.
In the ninth period the two teams had played in just over 24 hours, Wranglers forward Caileb Berge sniped his second goal of the night 1:38 into the extra to give his side a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead.
“You can’t count us out. They have so much will and so much determination and they’re a real tight group, they’re earning everything they get. All the respect, they’re earning,” said Wranglers head coach Pat Garritty.
That meant heartbreak for the Vipers, who had played two nearly perfect contests, only to find themselves trailing the series 2-0. Red Deer head coach J.D. Morrical said his group has played less than half a period of bad hockey and they are in a huge hole after two games.
“I’ve been around this league and this team for a long time, anytime you got a lead, it’s never safe. I’m almost getting to the point where I’d like to be down by two going into the third,” Morrical said.
“The other team, no matter who you play, puts on so much pressure, it’s hard to maintain. It seems like any shot where there’s a little bit of a screen, it’s just tough to stop. I loved the way we played, we played seven bad minutes of hockey in two games and we lose two games, it’s tough.”
Red Deer opened the game with a shorthanded goal from captain Justin Paarup and went up 2-0 with his brother Jace tapped in a rebound late in the first. Red Deer opened up a 3-0 advantage when Cole Hardman potted another rebound just 23 seconds into the second.
Sylvan Lake finally got on the board playing 4-on-4 in the second, when Brett Westin found the mark.
The visitors restored the two-goal advantage with a power play tally from Jace Paarup, but Payton Wright got Sylvan Lake back within two with 44 seconds left in the second period.
With under 10 minutes to play, Berge finally ignited some life into the Wranglers bench when he got them within a goal.
That was just enough to turn the tide and with 2:30 to go in the game, a point shot by Dayton Playford eluded Vipers goalie Dawson Weatherill and the game was tied at four.
Red Deer had a power play with 1:18 to play, but they were unable to capitalize.
“Our PK has been good all year it’s getting better in the playoffs when it matters more, that’s a good team over there and they have firepower and they can change a game in a hurry,” Garritty said.
That proved costly, because of just 1:38 into the extra frame, the ninth period in the last 24 hours, Berge decided to play hero.
On a four-on-two rush early in OT, the sniper ripped an absolute blast high glove past Weatherill.
“I just saw glove high open and I just shot as hard as I could, the outcome was good,” said Berge.
“Yeah, I was pumped, pumped for the team, it’s a good win.”
Weatherill made 26 saves in the loss, while Cameron Loomis-Labrosse picked up the win with 27 stops.
The Wranglers take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to Red Deer on Wednesday. Puck drop is 8:30 p.m. at Servus Arena.