Wranglers 4 Vipers 3 (win series 4-3)
There was almost nothing separating the Sylvan Lake Wranglers and Red Deer Vipers.
Game 7 of the best-of-seven Heritage Junior B Hockey League north division semifinal series fittingly came down to the final minute Monday night at Servus Arena.
The Wranglers, who burst out to a 3-0 series lead, needed every second of their fourth opportunity to close out the series and finally clinched the 4-3 victory after the dust settled in the dying seconds.
“We said it the whole series, there is not much that separates these two teams. One goal game again, Game 7. Just real proud of our guys,” said Wranglers head coach Pat Garritty. “They stuck together and they found a way to win. We’re not sure exactly how they did, it but they did.”
Red Deer gave it everything they had, down 4-2 in the final minute but scoring with the goalie out and 19 seconds left in the game to get within a goal. It was too little too late for the Vipers, who narrowly missed out on completing a comeback for the ages.
“Down 3-0, it took everything in our power to get this thing back and get Game 7 at home. I was expecting a bit of a different result, packed arena,” said Vipers head coach JD Morrical.
“It was nice to see the support from everybody. We played a bit hesitant, we started the game off a little tight on our sticks… we sat back on our heels a little bit… I liked the way we fought back.”
Sylvan Lake jumped to an early lead off the rush just 3:38 in, when a shot off from Wade Lightburn that bounced in past Canon Whitbread.
With 5:05 left in the period, the visitors extended their lead on another weird play in front of the Vipers net. Whitbread’s pokecheck hit a defender and bounced right on the stick of Dylan Scheunert who deposited his first goal of the playoffs.
The 2-0 lead was huge for the Wranglers’ confidence.
“JD (Morrical) said it early in the series, no lead is safe. With the firepower they have and they’re so well-coached. They’re dangerous and we were lucky to get out of the second and we played a really good third,” said Garritty.
Sylvan Lake took a 3-0 lead early in the second, but a penalty kill midway through the frame seemed to jump-start the home side.
Justin Paarup beat Cameron Loomis-Labrosse and then Jarvis Gaume scored to get Red Deer within one late in the second.
Disaster struck for Red Deer in the opening minute of the period. A great forecheck from Braidon Westin got the puck out to Taite Opdendries who flipped in a shot just 25 seconds into the third period and restored the two-goal lead.
“Any time you score in the first 30 seconds of any period, any game, let alone game 7, third period, it’s a good thing. That two-goal cushion, but both teams have struggled with that two-goal lead, especially in the third,” added Garritty.
From there, the visitors shut the door, only allowing a handful of shots from Red Deer in the frame until Paarup buried his second of the night with the goalie out.
“The boys played a perfect game and we went to war in that third period. We rolled four lines and we just tried to stay as fresh as we could and made sure we didn’t lose any battles. We played for each other,” Garritty said.
Loomis-Labrosse made 28 saves in the win, while Whitbread stopped 28 for Red Deer.
The Wranglers move on to face the Mountainview Colts in the HJHL North Division Final.