The first three games of the Alberta Midget Hockey League semifinals between the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons and the Calgary Buffaloes have represented the pinnacle of playoff hockey.
The two teams were ranked first and second in the league with the Buffs edging the Bisons by one point.
The series also features the top two offences and defences going at each other in what has been a grudge match thus far.
It should be no surprise to anyone the way the first three games have gone. The series has delivered on all its promises to be a tightly-skilled affair.
To say that goals have been hard to come by would be an understatement.
The Bisons needed two friendly bounces to reach overtime in Game 3 March 14 at the Cardel Rec South arena.
Playing in double overtime, Tyson Terretta, who scored one goal in 34 regular season games, out-waited a diving shot blocker, to pipe home the winner at the 12:58 mark, to put the Bisons in the driver’s seat, leading the best-of-five series 2-1.
“My first option was to pass dee-to-dee, but that wasn’t available,” said Terretta. “My next option was to put it on net, but there was a guy there to block the shot, so I just held it for a second; a lane opened up and I let her go.”
The Bisons needed a pair of fortuitous bounces just to reach overtime.
First, Cayde Augustine launched a shot from the blue line that ricocheted off Buffs defenseman Cayden Shmyr’s foot and in. Later in the third, Jackson Salt, who had a goal waved off in the second period, had a Liam Belcourt shot bounce off his backside and go in.
Overtime was two inches away from not happening in the first place.
Tyson Scott, who scored a goal with 15 seconds remaining in Game 2 of the quarterfinals to force overtime, was rewarded with a penalty shot with 1:46 remaining in regulation.
Coming in, he tried to go top-bunk on Gauthier, but his shot rifled off the crossbar and into the protective netting.
The Bisons also wouldn’t have made it to overtime if it wasn’t for the brilliant play by Ben Laidlaw between the pipes. He recorded a season-high 52 saves in the marathon.
“As a staff, we are just trying to stabilize the emotions. There is a lot of highs and lows out in these games, we have to keep them level so they can go out and compete,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry. “But wow, are these games fun right now.”
Returning to the lineup were forwards Tarun Fizer and Tyler Petrie. Fizer has been out for a significant time with an upper-body injury and Petrie has missed the entire playoff stretch with a lower-body injury.
“They changed the whole dynamic of our lineup. I think they looked like they fit in right off the bat,” said Bisons assistant coach Mike Langen.
Game 2 took place March 12 at the Strathmore Family Centre, where it wasn’t necessarily a must win for the Bisons, but it was the closest thing to it, playing in the best-of-five series.
Despite the larger ice surface giving players more time with the puck to make plays, the game remained scoreless into the late stages of the third period.
Peyton Krebs was called for a questionable penalty while going into the corner, trying to win a battle for the puck.
The Bisons penalty kill unit killed off the minor, highlighted by a Kaden Hanas headfirst diving shot block at the top of the zone.
Sensing the desperation, Zach Huber dove for a puck in the neutral zone, sending Peyton Krebs in alone on his former Western Canada Challenge Cup teammate Taylor Gauthier.
Krebs pulled out the Mighty Ducks triple-deke, finishing on the backhand, over a sprawled out Gauthier.
The 1-0 lead stood thanks to the great saves by Laidlaw, who made 28 of them to earn the shutout.
The Buffs took Game 1 on March 10 by capitalizing on a pair of odd man rushes in the first period.
Strathmore product Cole Clayton was able to roof one on the power play from Krebs and Salt in the second period, but that’s as close as they would get.
Game 4 went March 16 at the Strathmore Family Centre, as the Bisons looked to finish off the Buffs (result not available as of press time).
If necessary, Game 5 is set for March 18 at the Cardel Rec South Arena, where the winner will take on the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings for the league championship.