Red Deer Vipers head coach JD Morrical felt all along if his squad wanted to reach the playoffs in the provincial junior B hockey championships they’d have to handle the North Edmonton Red Wings.
The Red Wings came into the eight-team championship as the defending provincial champion and silver medalist at the Western Canadians.
Friday the Vipers met the Red Wings in a must-win situation and put together a solid effort in recording a 4-2 victory at the Arena.
“Prior to the tournament this was the team I was worried about,” said Morrical. “They only lost three guys from last year and play a similar style to us with that up high pressure.”
The win gave the Vipers a 1-1-0 record, leaving them needing only a tie against the Killam Wheat Kings today at noon to advance to tonight’s 8 p.m. semifinal.
The Wheat Kings tied Edmonton 4-4 in their first game and lost 5-4 to the North Peace Navigators Friday. The Navigators have clinched first place with a 2-0 record heading into today’s 9 a.m. meeting with the Red Wings.
Morrical knows the Wheat Kings won’t be a pushover.
“I watched them a couple of times and they’re an aggressive, hard-nosed team and remind me of (Heritage Junior B Hockey League champion) Mountainview. They have some high-end forwards we’ll have to shut down. But it’s big for us as we want to go into the playoffs with a positive attitude.”
Things didn’t exactly start on a positive for the Vipers Friday with Caleb McGillis scoring at 1:10 of the first period.
“That first goal was such a fluky goal which flipped over (Cole) Sears’ head,” said Morrical. “But the bench didn’t waver. They stuck to the game plan and kept pushing, pushing and pushing. That was the team we saw all January. It was nice to see them come back like that.”
The Vipers kept the pressure on the Wings until Brett Hoppus slipped home a rebound with 7.9 seconds remaining in the first period to send the teams to their dressing rooms tied at one.
“It got a big monkey off our backs … we needed that,” said Morrical. “We had so many chances to score, but …
“Even in that first period I thought we could have had a couple more, and to finally get that first one was huge.”
The Vipers were shutout 3-0 by the Navigators Thursday.
The Vipers dominated play in the middle stanza, out shooting the Red Wings 15-4 and getting goals from Kale Lapointe, at 13:07, and Nick Glackin, at 19:18.
The third period was fine for the Red Deer crew before they started to lose their discipline. The Wings got back in the game with McGillis’ second of the game at 8:04 and over the next six minutes the Red Wings controlled play, and if not for some strong play by Sears could have easily tied it. However, Dustin Spearing shovelled home a loose puck, which was laying behind Edmonton netminder Jiles Ladouceur, at 14:14 and the Vipers seemed to relax and regain control of the game.
Even then Sears came up with a huge glove save off Mikey Mantello on a short handed breakaway with 1:33 remaining in the game.
“It seems all year when we’re up two or there goals in the third period and we let one in asnd we get running around a bit,” said Morrical. “But I thought we handled it fairly well today.”
Sears finished with 26 saves while the Vipers had 26 shots on Red Wings starter Tyler Kwiatkowski and seven on Ladouceur, who came in to start the third period.
In the A Pool, the Wetaskiwin Icemen rolled to their second straight win, downing the Calgary Royals Gold 9-2 while the Wainwright Bisons edged the Mountainview Colts 2-1.
The Icemen sit at 2-0 with the Royals Gold and Wainwright at 1-1 and the Colts 0-2. The Icemen and Bisons meet today at 9:30 a.m. at the Kinex while the Colts and Royals Gold clash at 12:30 p.m. at the Kinex.
Both semifinals are set for 8 p.m. with the bronze medal game Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and the final at 2 p.m. at the Arena.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.