After a dominating regular season, the Wheatland Chiefs hit a bit of adversity in their South Central Hockey League playoffs, before reverting back to their world-beating ways in the south division final.
The local double-A midget team exacted some revenge on the Lethbridge Hurricanes, piping them 5-0 March 12 at Medicine Hat Arena to capture their second-straight south division title.
Earlier in the tournament, after a sizzling hot start by crushing the Foothills Bisons 5-1 (March 9) and destroying the Okotoks Oilers Green 11-2 (March 10), they took their foot off the gas in the third period against the Hurricanes, resulting in a 3-3 tie (March 11).
“We got complacent up 3-1 in the second,” said Chiefs assistant coach Matt Gass. “Even though we outshot the Hurricanes by 28, we didn’t give it our best effort closing out the game.”
The tie knocked the Chiefs out of the top seed heading into the elimination round. Instead of a rematch with the Foothills Bisons, they were forced to play the Medicine Hat Hounds in the semis.
The Hounds finished the regular season 12 points behind the Chiefs in second, and were one of two teams to defeat them this season.
Teams were tied 2-2 after the second period on goals from Rylan Longmuir and A.J. Kusu.
Wacy Sandum scored 17 seconds into the third frame from Kelton Travis and Ryan Bell, but a late slashing penalty to Chayse Hnatowich opened the door for the Hounds one last time.
With 37 seconds left in regulation, Maverick Cox tied the game from Cody Riehl and Martiz Watz.
“During the intermission, we just told our guys to stay focused,” said Gass. “We knew we were beating them all game and that they got lucky with a penalty at the end. We just needed to keep battling and our hard work was going to pay off.”
Robert Butterwick sent the Chiefs into the finals on a feed from Riley Romashenko 2:47 into the extra frame.
After seeing their season flash before their eyes, the Chiefs entered the south division finals on a mission, in a rematch against the Hurricanes.
The league’s regular season top point-getter, Isaac Benoit, scored the winner 58 seconds into the first period from Clouston.
Kelton Travis netted an unassisted marker less than two minutes later, and Benoit closed out the frame with his second of the period from Butterwick and Romashenko.
Lucas Muenchrath sniped a short-handed marker midway through the second period from Sandum, and Longmuir put the Hurricanes to bed in the third from Clouston and Travis.
Ty Tarvyd was spectacular in net, making 28 saves for the shutout.
Following the celebration, Chiefs captain Bell was presented with the championship banner, but respectfully and superstitiously declined to grab it for a photo, realizing the win was only step one of three along the way.
“I was surprised by their reaction to winning it,” said Chiefs head coach Evan Barlow. “They took it upon themselves to have the mentality that this was just a step towards an ultimate goal. It was pretty neat to see that from kids at that age.”
Now the Chiefs shift their focus to the Airdrie Lightning for the SCHAL crown and the right to head to provincials.
Michael DuBois scored in overtime as the Lighting edged the Okotoks Oilers Black 4-3 March 12 at the Can Pak Arena 1.
The Lightning finished fifth in the north division, with a 14-16-6 record.
“Airdrie is playing strong right now,” said Gass. “We haven’t seen them since the start of the season, but, from what I hear, they are a big, physical team and we are going to have to attack them with our speed.”
Game 1 of the best-of-three series goes March 17 at the Strathmore Family Centre. Game 2 is set for March 18 in Airdrie, and if necessary, Game 3 would go March 19 back in Strathmore.
The Chiefs skimmed the Lightning 4-3 in Strathmore back on Dec. 11 in the only meeting between the two teams.
Benoit led the Chiefs with seven goals and a pair of assists over the weekend. Butterwick finished with eight points and Hnatowich recorded six points.
Tarvyd won all three of his starts, posting a .940 save percentage and a 1.60 goals-against average. Riley Stovka helped out, going 1-0-1, with a .890 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against.
The local double-A peewee Braves struggled during their playoff tournament in Olds over the weekend.
The Braves dropped the opener to the Red Deer Motors 5-2 March 10 at the Olds and District Sports Complex.
Things didn’t get any better from there. They lost their next two games to the Bow Valley Timberwolves 8-1 (March 10) and fell 9-1 later that afternoon to the host Olds Grizzlys.
In their final game of the season, Philip Raycroft scored with 8:15 remaining in the third to tie the Airdrie Lighting White 3-3 March 11.
Raycroft led the Braves with three goals. Tate Yule sniped a goal and two assists, while Nolan Mahussier tied for the team lead in points with three assists.
The bantam Warriors will not be defending their south division title this season.
They went winless in Okotoks, losing their last game of the season 6-2 March 11 to the Medicine Hat Hounds.
They opened the tournament with a 9-5 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes (March 9), followed by a 3-1 loss to the host Okotoks Oilers (March 10).
The Warriors lost a barnburner March 11 to the Taber Golden Suns 10-8.
Mitch Tessemaker led the Warriors with four goals and four assists, Adam Kirkpatrick supplied six points, and Nolan Bailey and Trey Gillis tied for third on the team with four points.