Phil Jackson, a 13-time NBA champion, would acknowledge postseason events while coaching the Los Angeles Lakers as: “playoffs can turn on a trifle.”
Looking back at the Alberta Midget Hockey League Chrysler division semifinals between the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons and the Calgary Flames, the trifle occurred in Game 2 with 15.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
Deep in the Flames zone, Kaden Hanas and Brandon Machado worked the puck to the side of the net, where Tyson Scott stood on the doorstep, jamming in the game-tying goal, forcing overtime.
Machado went on to score in overtime, putting the Bisons in what they perceived to be a comfortable situation, up 2-0, heading back to Strathmore with a chance to sweep.
The Flames had different ideas, as they stuffed the Bisons in Game 3, 3-1 at the jam-packed Strathmore Family Centre.
The Bisons were 15.6 seconds away from being down 2-1 in the series and facing elimination when they entered overtime of Game 4, March 6 at Father David Bauer Arena.
Heading into the playoff series, it didn’t seem like the Flames were going to be as big of a problem that they turned out to be. The Bisons handled them fairly easily in the regular season, but, as we have come to learn so many times, the regular season doesn’t mean a thing once the playoffs roll around.
The Flames knocked off the higher-seeded Red Deer Chiefs 2-1 in the opening best-of-three series, while the Bisons sat and watched, waiting 10 days for their opponent.
The Herd opened the Chrysler division semifinals with a 5-4 win March 2 at the Strathmore Family Centre.
Zach Huber netted the eventual winner off another picturesque saucer pass from Peyton Krebs. At the time, Huber’s marker put the Herd up 5-2.
“They have that play down to a science, it’s becoming automatic,” said Bisons assistant coach Paden Grant.
But the Flames gave a glimpse at their tenacity and resiliency, as they got within a trifle of sending Game 1 into overtime, with furious play at the end of regulation.
Boaz Bassen, Jackson Salt, Hanas and Landon Melzer picked up the other markers, with assists going to Tyler Strath, Krebs (2), Huber (2), Cole Clayton, Machado, Tyson Scott and Liam Belcourt. Ben Laidlaw made 29 saves in net.
Game 2 saw the Bisons score the first goal for the only game of the series. The Flames led 5-3 entering the third period, as Hanas and Scott’s late heroics sent the game into overtime.
“I don’t even think I was supposed to be out there,” joked a raspy-sounding Scott, who lost his voice in the third period.
Other Bisons goals came from Scott, Machado, affiliated player Tucker Zdunich and Hanas, with assists to Machado (2), Joel Krahenbil (2), Bassen, Melzer, Blake Wells and Hanas.
The fans filed into the Strathmore Family Centre for Game 3 and a chance to witness a sweep. But Flames goaltender, Ben Howard, had different plans.
Howard had been torched for 11 goals in the two regular season tilts and 11 goals in the first two games of the series, but was a brick wall, turning away 34 shots.
“I thought he was good in the first two games and he certainly had an outstanding afternoon today, especially in the first period,” said Flames head coach Jeremy Blumes. “I thought the Bisons created some excellent opportunities and he answered the bell for us.”
The Bisons allowed three goals in the first period, including a short-handed tally.
Salt looked to ignite the comeback, scoring his second of the series 32 seconds into the second period from Krebs and Clayton, but Howard was simply the best player on the ice.
The following night, the Bisons were kind enough to spot the Flames another three-goal cushion in the first period.
Bisons head coach Sandy Henry challenged the competitive fire of his team between periods and they responded.
“I really called out their character between the first and second. How can you dare bring that game, to your fans and to the people that care about you?” said Henry. “But there is character in there. Playoff hockey is less about X and O’s, and more about heart and passion. We didn’t have it at the start, but, somehow, this team can find a way to get it when they need to.”
Hanas picked the corner and went top-shelf, and Huber got to the rough areas of the ice, shoveling in two goals 2:31 seconds apart.
At the 13:19 mark of the second period, Blake Wells drove defenseman Ian Dubourdieu into the boards, resulting in a five-minute major and a game misconduct. He will be suspended for Game 1 of the next series.
The third period was madness. Regulation ended, tied 4-4, with the Bisons carrying the slight edge in shots, 38-36. Laidlaw was doing everything he could to throw a body part in front of the puck, including making a pair of stops without his stick, from the seat of his pants.
Henry rolled out the same line that scored the overtime winner in Game 2, as Krahenbil and Machado were taking stabs at a loose puck, with captain Brett Trentham stuffing in the winner at the 2:32 mark.
The Bisons, who finished one point below the Calgary Buffaloes, will now head to Cardel Rec South Arena, March 10 for Game 1 of the division finals. Puck drop is tentatively set for 8 p.m. Check the AMHL website and Bisons homepage for future updates.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” said Huber. “We have a couple things to tighten up at practice, but we will be ready to roll.”