Vipers 4 Bisons 2
Without the Okotoks Bisons, the Red Deer Vipers would be long gone from in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League playoffs.
The Bisons did the Vipers a huge favour when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to down Medicine Hat 4-3 in the league quarter-finals.
As a result the Vipers, who lost 4-1 to the Blackfalds Wranglers, got a second berth because they had the best regular season record among the three teams eliminated in the quarter-finals.
But just because the Vipers owed the Bisons didn’t mean they would take it easy on them.
In fact the Vipers didn’t treat them well at all, as they downed the Bisons 4-2 Monday at the Arena to eliminate the Okotoks crew 3-1 in the best-of-five semifinal.
“It’s kind of weird as they let us back in, then we turn around and beat them,” said Vipers veteran forward and captain J.D. Morrical.
“It was certainly disappointing losing to Blackfalds, but we got the second life and the guys made the most of it,” said Vipers first-year head coach Lloyd Cox, who felt a 6-1 win in Okotoks Sunday was the biggest win of the series.
“That was a huge momentum changer,” he said. “It seemed that shocked them.”
But that didn’t mean the Bisons were going to hand the series to Red Deer. They stormed out of the gate Monday and held a 15-11 edge in shots in the first period, but went into the break trailing 1-0 on a goal by Justin Moir at 10:18.
The Bisons came back to tie the score at 5:46 of the second period on a goal by Luke Mohns, but David Foord regained the Red Deer lead at 8:23.
Patrick Amell gave the Vipers some breathing room, beating Okotoks netminder Christian Chivilo at 9:50 of the third period.
And they needed it as Lance Risseeuw shovelled in a loose puck past Red Deer netminder Mike Stonehouse during a scramble with 37.5 seconds remaining to narrow the gap to 3-2.
However, Jordan Koopmans sealed the victory, scoring into an empty net with 3.5 seconds remaining.
The Vipers ability to maintain their cool under constant pressure in the third period was something that may not have happened earlier in the season.
“The guys kept working hard this season and progressing and eventually their skill came through,” said Cox.
“Early in the year we did break down as games wore on, but we had a lot of new guys and it took some time to bond,” he said. “And it came down to confidence.”
As well Cox was new this season, which meant a new system.
“It was different but he did a good job and we all like Lloyd,” added Morrical, who believed that playing Blackfalds then Okotoks only helped them develop.
“When you get used to playing good teams every game and making all the simple plays all the time it carries over and you start playing at a high level all the time,” he said.
Stonehouse played a key role in the victory, finishing with 45 saves. In fact he won the last three starts.
“We usually switch goaltenders (between Stonehouse and Jason Pohl), but we also go with the guy who’s hot and Mike played well,” said Cox.
The victory not only gave the Vipers a berth in what is expected to be a best-of-three league final against arch-rival Blackfalds, but a spot in the provincial championships, set to begin March 30 in Peace River.
“We really wanted to go to the provincials,” said Morrical. “But then it would be nice to win the league and go in as the No. 1 team out of the Heritage League.”
“Getting into the provincials was huge, which gives our younger guys a lot of experience,” he said. “But we’d like to win the league as well and the final should be exciting. We’ve had some good battles with Blackfalds all season. They have a very good first line and a strong defence. If we can control them it will be a battle.”
• The Vipers finished with 33 shots on Chivilo.