Bisons 4 Vipers 3 (OT)
The Red Deer Vipers have made a habit of falling behind in the playoffs before regrouping.
They trailed 1-0 to the Stettler Lightning in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League North Division semifinal before winning 3-1, then fell behind the Blackfalds Wranglers 2-0 and 3-2 before winning the north.
So it came as no surprise to see the Vipers drop a 4-3 overtime decision to the Okotoks Bisons in the opening game of the best-of-five league semifinal Sunday at the Arena.
“We showed a definite lack of mental toughness,” said Vipers coach Brad Koopmans.
“We took some undisciplined penalties and that’s a dynamic team across the ice and they capitalize well when they get a chance. We need to be a lot more disciplined and mentally focused.”
The Vipers lack of discipline led to the winning goal when the Bisons broke away two-on-one while shorthanded and Derek Schlamp picked the top corner over goaltender Travis Weber’s right shoulder.
“That was a goal-scorers goal, but at the same time he should never have been in that position, that came down to the mental aspect of the game,” said Koopmans.
The Bisons scored a pair of shorthanded goals — the first by Phil Dillon in the first period that gave them a 2-1 lead.
David Foord had a pair of goals for the Vipers, who led 3-2 after 40 minutes, and had a glorious opportunity to win it late in the third period, but was stopped on a breakaway by Bisons netminder Christian Chivilo.
Josh Christensen added a single marker for Red Deer while Ty Fehr and Jeremy Smith also scored for the Bisons, who finished with 39 shots on Weber. Chivilo made 25 saves.
Vipers captain JD Morrical, who had a pair of assists, felt the team had a letdown after their 7-3 win in the final game against Blackfalds.
“We were on such a high, then had to come back down and we just weren’t ready for tonight’s game from start to finish,” said Morrical.
“Those two shorthanded goals showed that.
“There wasn’t anyone ready and willing to do what it will takes to win this.”
Morrical feels the team has the right outlook and will be ready for the next game Tuesday in Okotoks.
He said the coaching change, switching from Lloyd Shaw during the Stettler series, has been a boost for the team.
“It’s been way better since the change,” he said.
“I honestly don’t believe we would have beat Stettler without it. There’s just more preparation and we’re ready for games and everyone is happier.
“There’s not that crappy mood in the room. We needed to change it up.”
Koopmans feels the fact the Vipers lost the opening games of their first two series should help them rebound Tuesday.
“You learn from the past to set up the present,” he said. “We’ll regroup and come out a lot stronger.”
He also knows they can win on the road.
“It’s the playoffs and momentum is a huge factor, but it doesn’t matter what barn you’re in you have to bring your A game. Any team can win on any given night.”
l The Vipers took 12 of 19 minor penalties . . . The third game of the series goes Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Arena with the fourth game, if necessary, Saturday in 3:15 p.m. in Okotoks and a fifth, if needed, Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Arena . . . The winner of the series not only qualifies for the final, but also the provincials.