The Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons three-peated as Chrysler division champs, finishing off the Calgary Buffaloes in a dramatic Game 4 of the Alberta Midget Hockey League semifinals.
With 24.6 seconds remaining in regulation, the Buffs were dreaming of a Game 5 on home ice, when Bisons head coach Sandy Henry called a time out.
The Buffs just iced the puck, with the faceoff coming to the right of Taylor Gauthier.
“The play was to win the faceoff, move the puck around the wall and get something on net,” said Strathmore product Cole Clayton.
After the faceoff, the puck worked its way behind the net, where Jackson Salt was jamming away, trying to free it up. From there, the puck squirted to the left half-wall, and Zach Huber and Peyton Krebs freed it, with valuable seconds bleeding from the clock. Krebs hit Clayton on the blue line with less than 10 seconds remaining.
“I don’t know how he thought to wait and fake around him. If that was me, I probably would have shot it into the guy’s shin pads,” said Bisons captain Brett Trentham.
Similar to Tyson Terretta’s Game 3 double-overtime winner, Clayton patiently waited for the blitzing shot blocker to slide past him before shooting on net.
Along its path to the twine, Salt made contact with it, striking it down and into the back of the net with 5.5 seconds remaining.
The packed Strathmore Family Centre exploded as the Bisons bench went nuts.
“You could feel waves of sound at that point. It was crazy in there tonight,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
It only made sense that those two teams were destined for overtime.
Each game was a one-goal game, with great play making and even greater goaltending.
Gauthier was the 10th pick by the Prince George Cougars during the 2016 WHL draft, but he was outplayed by the AJHL Canmore Eagles prospect, Ben Laidlaw.
Time after time, he found a way to come up with huge saves against the league’s top offence, frustrating them at crucial moments. He finished the series with a 1.50 goals against average and a .961 save percentage, recorded 146 saves (36.5 saves per game) and out-duelled one of the top young goaltending prospects in Western Canada.
“If you put too much pressure on yourself, you’re probably going to lose,” said Laidlaw. “I just needed to focus on stopping the next one, then the next one and then the next one. It also helps when you’re on a team like this. I’m pretty confident in this group and that they are going to come out on top, even when we are down with five seconds left.”
Laidlaw was the main reason the Buffs went 0-for-15 on the power play in the series, including 50 seconds of a five-on-three power play in the second period.
“The guy is so composed. I’ve never seen that in a guy. There’s no rattle, but big battle. It’s tough to find guys that have both like that. He’s a special, special kid,” said Henry.
The Bisons were 3-0 in overtime this playoffs heading into the Game 4 extra frames, and 48 hours removed from another thrilling double-overtime victory at the Cardel Rec South arena. It followed a similar blueprint to the Bisons Game 2 win in the quarterfinals against the Calgary Flames.
In that game, Tyson Scott tied it with 15.6 seconds remaining, before Brandon Machado won it with a tap in during overtime.
Machado had the magic touch once again, this time in double overtime, thanks to the James Norris Memorial trophy-worthy vision from Clayton.
Just over nine minutes into the second overtime, the Buffs were looking to break out of their zone. That’s when Clayton pinched and kept the puck in.
Finding himself on a 2-on-1 with Machado, he drove to the net.
“I was standing on the bench, yelling at Machado to back up; I thought he was too close for Cole to get the puck over to him,” said Henry.
Skating in as tight as he could, Clayton feathered the puck underneath the stick of the kneeling defenseman over to Machado.
“Their guy wasn’t laying down, so there was a tiny triangle underneath the stick that I could fit the puck through. I think the goalie was getting ready for me to shoot because I was in so tight. That’s probably why he couldn’t slide over in time,” said Clayton.
“You can’t teach that stuff, it’s something they’re wired with,” said Henry, about Clayton’s play-making ability in the clutch.
He hit Machado, who delivered his second tap-in overtime winner of the playoffs, as the Strathmore Family Centre went into bedlam.
“He’s a great player and has great patience. He made a great pass; after that, everything turned into a blur,” said Machado.
The players stormed the ice as parents and fans smacked the glass, some even climbing the glass, hanging over the top in celebration.
On the other half of the bracket, the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings swept the top-ranked Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings in the league semis.
Winner advances to the Pacific championships in B.C. for a chance to head to the Telus Cup.