Great goaltending, excellent scoring chances and timely penalty killing by the Bandits added up to an exciting first two games of the AJHL championship final played in Brooks this past weekend.
Fans were treated to two 3-2 contests with Simon Gravel scoring the game winner in both contests. Gravel’s game winner in game two Saturday night came in double overtime.
A crowd of 1,741 spectators watched Gravel score two goals.
He struck for the only goal of the first period (Lemay and Lucas) at 3:02 on a back door tip-in that beat goaltender Matt Davis.
Shots were hard to come by in the contest with Brooks outshooting Spruce Grove 9-7.
The Saints evened the count at 8:35 of the second period when Ryan Peckford poked in a loose rebound.
But Ryan Mahshie (Christy and Vachon) restored his team’s one goal lead at 13:20 on the power play.
It was the only power play goal of the night as the Bandits went one for four while killing off five penalties. One of the penalties gave the Saints a five minute power play when Ray Christy was ejected for a blow to the head. He was subsequently suspended by the AJHL for two games and sat out Saturday’s game.
It was shortly after the penalty that the Saints found themselves penalized which limited the power play to just under three minutes.
The Bandits outshot the Saints 9-5 in the period.
Gavel (Lemay and Hernandez) scored the game winner 50 seconds after the puck dropped to start the third period. The goal came on a two-on-one rush following a Lemay pass to his teammate.
The Saints outshot the Bandits 7-3 in the period but the Bandits finished with a 21-19 shots on goal advantage.
Gravel was named the Brooks game star while Logan Ganie was the away game star.
Goaltenders Matt Davis and Pierce Charleson stole the show in Saturday’s night’s contest at the Centennial Regional Arena. Both made numerous quality saves in front of 1,641 spectators.
Davis stopped 45 of 48 shots in the double overtime game while Charleson turned away 44 of the 36 shots he faced.
This contest looked to be heading to triple overtime but Gravel had other ideas.
With the Saints having control in the offensive end on a draw, the puck slipped past defenceman Cory Babichuk at the left point. This was all the speedy Brooks forward needed as he pounced on a loose puck and raced down the right side to score on a backhand through the pads of Davis at 16:57.
Davis faced 13 shots in the opening period with at least six being quality scoring chances by the Bandits. He robbed Simon Boyko from close range with a big pad save.
The lone goal came when Randy Hernandez skated around a defender for a breakaway but he fell only to had William Lemay pick up the loose puck and send a poke check shot past Davis at 3:26.
The Bandits outshot the Saints 13-12.
It didn’t take long for the Bandits to go up 2-0 in the second period.
Forward Arnaud Vachon had the puck come to him after a clearance attempt by the Saints went off Tyler Campbell. Vachon then skated to the right circle and fired a low shot past Davis 50 seconds after the puck dropped.
But there was not quit in the Saints. Seth Fyten scored at 6:39 on a wrap around goal after Charleson was involved in a pile up of players in the goal crease. He simply was unable to move to prevent the goal.
Tanney Hickey then put the Saints on even ground when his bullet wrist shot found the back of the net bar down at 8:58.
The Bandits outshot the Saints 10-9.
From this point on, neither team was able to find the back of the net although both squads had great chances.
The third period remained scoreless thanks to superb penalty killing by the Bandits.
Brooks was forced to kill a five minute penalty with 5:49 remaining when Carter Wolski was assessed a major penalty for boarding.
Spruce Grove had few quality scoring chances thanks to the Bandits who had the better opportunities during the penalty.
The Saints outshot the Bandits 12-8.
Overtime featured more excitement with the Saints having a four-minute power play when Nathan Plessis was handed a high sticking double minor.
Again, the penalty killers and Charleson stood tall.
Forward Jakob Lee not only helped kill the penalty but found himself with a shorthanded breakaway that Davis denied.
Charleson then matched the save of Davis by diving to make a huge blocker save on a backdoor shot by Alex Dalton in the second overtime session.
It was this save that gave the Bandits the opportunity to score the game winner by Gravel.
Shots in the two overtime sessions were 17-13 in favor of the Bandits.
Brooks failed to score on four power plays but were a perfect five for five on the penalty kill.
Both goaltenders picked up the game star awards.
Games three and four were played Monday and Tuesday evening in Spruce
Grove. Should a fifth game be required, it will be played in Brooks Friday night.
The winner of the series will play the B.C. champion for the Doyle Cup beginning April 26. The first two games will be hosted by the AJHL champions with the remainder of the games hosted by the BCHL champions.