Junior hockey playoffs in May?
Live and in Prince George?
It’s been a long time since that happened, 12 years in fact, and if Wednesday’s barnburner of a game was any indication, it was sorely missed.
The Prince George Spruce Kings came up with one of their best games of a long season, powered by a two-goal effort from Nolan Welsh, defeating the Brooks Bandits 3-1 to tie the Doyle Cup series 2-2.
Patrick Cozzi had the other goal in a battle that went down to the final 32 seconds. Welsh ended the suspense with a shot into an empty net for his second goal of the game.
Logan Neaton made 19 saves for his 18th win of the playoffs. Jacob Lee’s power-play goal 8:11 into the first period was the only shot that beat him, The Kings outshot the Bandits 28-20.
Game 5 of the best-of-seven series to determine Pacific region junior A hockey championship is set for tonight (7 p.m.) at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena. There will be a Game 6 Saturday at RMCA.
Trailing by just a goal, Bandits forward William Lemay had the tying goal on his stick as he circled in front and let go a shot but Neaton stretched out his body and blocked it to preserve the lead with 51 seconds left.
“When you’re playing hockey in May you’re going to have two good teams and that’s what we saw here tonight,” said Kings general manager Mike Hawes. “It was a tremendous effort, we got down early but kept at it and managed to get the game tied and we kind of took the game over once we got that goal. Our third period was tremendous and the guys did a great job of defending our lead and getting the victory.”
The building erupted 1:09 into the second period when Welsh tied it up on a power play of their own. Cozzi started the play with a 3-on-2 entry into the Brooks zone and got the puck over to Dylan Anhorn on the left side and the Kings defenceman spotted Welsh alone in font. He took the pass and had an open net to shoot at for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
All 1,908 spectators who entered the rink were given Spruce Kings rally towels and Welsh’s goal gave them a reason to wave them. Cozzi gave them another, scoring a spectacular goal with 1:37 left in the second period to give Prince George the lead.
He carried the puck out of his own end and turned on the afterburner, using his speed to deke his way through the Bandits until he got to the face-off circle and let go a high wrister to the far side that made the net ripple. It was the third goal and 20th point in 21 playoff games for the Greenlawn, N.Y. native.
In between those two goals there was a period of fast, physical hockey dominated by the Spruce Kings. Welsh’s goal seemed to take a load off the shoulders of the home side and they poured the pressure on the Alberta Junior Hockey League champions. Kings’ fans were holding their collective breath a couple minutes after Welsh scored when William Lemay, the AJHL scoring champion, took off on a breakaway. He got a good shot away but Neaton stood tall and used his stick to deflect it away, then got run over by the charging Lemay.
Welsh set up Lucas Vanroboys twice in the deep slot with dangerous-looking chances but he could not convert. The Kings had another golden opportunity when Dustin Manz tied to make it a 3-1 game on a wraparound with 1:12 left in the second period. The puck was left unguarded in the crease and Bandits defenceman Luke Bast put his hand on it, resulting in a penalty shot.
Layton Ahac was elected and he tried to beat Pierce Charleson with a backhand move but was foiled by the 19-year-old goalie from Aurora, Ont. The Kings outshot the Bandits 14-6 in the middle period. That did not include the shot Kings captain Ben Poisson clanged off the goalpost with 10 seconds left in the period after a face-off win in the Brooks zone.
The teams picked up the frenzied pace in the third period and Kings continued to control the puck and generate chances, outshooting the Bandits 8-0 in the first 10 minutes of the period. They made it extremely difficult for their opponents to get across the line into Kings territory, holding them without a shot until the period was 13 minutes old.
Brooks centre Lee has been the hottest Bandit lately and he cashed in a rebound on a power play to open the scoring eight minutes in. Brandon Scanlin took a shot from the point and Lee was there to jump on the loose puck, taking it wide around Neaton with 21 seconds left in a tripping penalty to Nick Poisson.
Lee scored two goals and had an assist Sunday in the Bandits’ 4-0 win in Game 3 and the 20-year-old Owen Sound, Ont., native potted the insurance goal in their 3-1 win in Game 2 on Saturday.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Kings have played in May just once in their 23-year BCHL history when they hosted the 2007 Royal Bank Cup national championship and lost in the final 3-1 to the Aurora Tigers…. Both teams have qualified for this year’s national tournament, May 11-19 in Brooks… Seventy-five tickets reserved for Brooks fans will be made available to the masses starting at 10 a.m. today at the Kings’ office…If Game 7 is needed it will be played Sunday night… Bandits centre Lee and Spruce Kings defenceman Max Coyle were teammates last season playing junior B in Ontario with the Listowel Cyclones.
Prince George Spruce Kings vs. Brooks Bandits
(Best-of-seven series tied 2-2)
Bandits 1 at Spruce Kings 3
1. Brooks, Lee 8 (Scanlin, Campbell) 8:11 (pp)
Penalties - Bast BKS (high-sticking) 2:23, N.Poisson PG (tripping) 6:32, Manz PG (tripping) 15:48.
2. Prince George, Welsh 5 (Anhorn, Cozzi) 1:09 (pp)
3. Prince George, Cozzi 3 (Manz) 18:23
Missed penalty shot: Ahac, 18:48
Penalties – Christy BKS (interference) 0:43, Theis BKS (hooking) 19:37.
4. Prince George, Welsh 6, 19:28 (en)
Penaltt – Ceulemans BKS (roughing) 6:00.
Shots of goal by
Brooks 8 6 6 -20
Prince George4 14 10 -28
Goal – Brooks, Charleson (L,14-5); Prince George, Neaton (W,18-3);.
Power plays – BKS: 1-2: PG: 1-4.
Referees – Ward Pateman, Jeff Eden; Linesmen – Nick Albinati, Riley Balson.
Attendance – 1,908.
Three stars – 1. Patrick Cozzi, PG; 2. Max Coyle, PG; 3. Nolan Welsh, PG.
Scratches – Brooks: D Ethan Lund (healthy), D Wyatt Villatlta (healthy), F Bobby Harrison (healthy), F Andranik Armstrong (healthy); F Taylor Makar (healthy), D Jordan DiCicco (healthy), D Tyler Bates (healthy), G Ethan Barwick (healthy); Prince George: D Jay Keranen (upper-body injury), D Liam Watson-Brawn (upper-body injury), F Nick Wilson (healthy), F Spencer DenBeste (healthy).