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Bandits take 2-0 series lead in AJHL final
BRUCE PARKER
Brooks Bulletin

Brooks Bandits could be heading to the Western Canada Cup in Penticton should they complete a sweep of the North Division AJHL champion Whitecourt Wolverines.
The defending Alberta Junior Hockey League champions entered game three in Whitecourt Monday night of the best-of-seven series holding a 2-0 lead. Game four will be played Tuesday night.
Much like the South final against Okotoks where the Bandits struck for nine goals, the Wolverines also had no answer in game one of the final against the Bandits. They also surrendered nine goals, losing 9-1 Friday night.
The contest was highly entertaining in the first period with both teams trading early goals and dishing out heavy hits. But as the game progressed, the speed and scoring prowess of the Bandits was simply too much for the Wolverines to handle.
A capacity crowd of 2,356 spectators watched as the teams exchanged goals less than a minute apart in the first several minutes of the game.
Connor Jean (Josh McKechney and Cale Makar) opened the scoring at 2:24 but Morgan Messenger tied the contest at 3:01 for the Wolverines.
From this point on, game one belonged to the Bandits.
Arnaud Vachon (Tyrell Mappin and Kord Pankewicz) scored the game winner at 5:47 and Orca Wiesblatt (Parker Foo and Parker Huebner) made it 3-1 at 16:58.
The Bandits were out shot 9-4 early in the game but finished the period with a 19-13 shots on goal edge.
Second period action had the Bandits adding four more goals in a dominating effort that had them out shooting the Wolverines 19-3.
Parker Foo (Jean and Makar) connected at 1:25. He was followed by Nathan Plessis on an unassisted goal at 6:49, Jean (Makar and Joe O’Conner) with his second of the game on the power play at 8:48 and Vachon (Oliver Chau and Dennis Cesana) with his second of the game on the power play at 10:58.
Jean’s second goal of the game marked the end in net for Pierce Diamon. He was replaced by Sam-Jaxon Visscher.
Whitecourt picked up their play in the final frame but all 10 shots were turned aside by goaltender Mitchell Benson.
Visscher was not as fortunate as he surrendered two goal on 12 shots he faced.
Josh McKechney (Foo) made it 8-1 at 3:36 and Wiesblatt (Charlie Marchand and Pankewicz) rounded out the scoring with his second of the game on the power play at 11:22.
The Bandits out shot the Wolverines 50-26 and were good on three of six power plays. The Wolverines failed to connect on five chances with the man advantage.
Conner Jean was named the Brooks game star while Morgan Messenger was the Whitecourt game star.
Game two Saturday had the Wolverines turning in a much better performance but they still fell 3-0.
With his fourth playoff shutout, Bandits goaltender Mitchell Benson tied a league record for playoff shutouts. It was a record former Bandit goaltender Garret Hughson tied last season, said Bandits communications manager Tyler King.
The 1,937 spectators did not have to wait long for the game winner. Oliver Chau (Makar and Nick Prkusic) scored just 34 seconds after the puck dropped when his shot deflected off a Whitecourt skate and into the net.
Brooks out shot the Wolverines 13-5.
The Wolverines turned the tables on the Bandits in the second frame. The out shot their hosts 16-9 and only the solid goaltending of Benson prevented them from getting on the scoreboard.
Benson made four key saves while the Bandits were killing a minor penalty and this left the visitors frustrated.
While the Bandits could only get nine shots on net, Dennis Cesana (Jake Theis) made the most of his point shot when he beat Diamond who was screened on the play.
Whitecourt played a good final period but solid defensive play by the Bandits limited them to just seven shots. The Bandits also fired seven shots on net.
With time winding down, Nick Prkusic added a third goal on an unassisted short handed breakaway at 17:18.
The Bandits out shot the Wolverines 29-28. Both teams failed to connect with the man advantage. The Bandits had two chances while the Wolverines had four.
Mitchell Benson was named the Brooks game star while Jaedon Leslie was chosen the game star for Whitecourt.
Should a fifth game in the series be required, it will be played Friday night in Brooks in the Centennial Regional Arena at 7 p.m.
Readers can check this week’s Regional for results of game three in the series.
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