The Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Bonnyville Pontiacs battled into the fifth period Saturday night at the Casman Centre in Game 1 of their AJHL North Division semi-final.
It took until 8:10 of double overtime for Dylan Stewart to chip a loose puck past MOB goalie Eric Szudor to send the Pontiacs home with a 2-1 win and a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series.
“Our guys would’ve played a game like this in September and this is why they beat us at the start of the year because they just worked harder than we did. When we had success later on in the year it was because we were willing to pay the price, we were willing to bang bodies and we had no physical presence,” said MOB head coach Tom Keca.
The Oil Barons were coming off a first round bye and had a 13 day layoff while the Pontiacs came into the series after a four game series win over the Sherwood Park Crusaders in round one.
If there was any question of rust for the MOB, that was quickly put to bed as the MOB came out flying. Dominating the play in the game’s opening ten minutes and forcing Sandro Silvestre to make several quality stops early.
The Barons would open the scoring 5:57 into the first when Will Conley drove towards the Pontiacs goal. Conley slid the puck through the crease and it bounced off a Pontiac defender and in behind Silvestre to send the 1,357 fans in attendance into a frenzy. The goal gave Conley goals in three straight dating back to the regular season.
Late in the first period, Pontiac defenceman Jake Gresh was issued a double minor for high sticking when he got the shaft of his stick up in the face of Oil Baron Matteo Aiello. Despite the four minute advantage, the MOB weren’t able to muster much of anything and the lengthy kill seemed to give the Pontiacs some momentum heading into the second period.
Mid-way through the second the Pontiacs would finally break through. Veteran Alden Dupuis danced around Kyler Newman before pulling the puck to the backhand to beat Szudor for his first goal of the post season to tie the game 1-1.
“They wore us down and they continued to just throw things at the net and they made our defencemen and our low support forward battle hard and we didn’t do the same,” said Keca.
The two teams continued to go toe to toe and save for save all the way to the final buzzer. The third period was a defensive battle as neither team gave up much of anything defensively with the shots totaling 6-6 in the frame. Late in the third the MOB had a chance to win the game when Brandon Ralph threw a puck on net. Shane Fraser came crashing in looking for a rebound but Silvestre came out and gobbled it up. As Fraser headed towards the goal he bumped Silvestre and was called for goaltender interference with 1:08 left on the clock.
The Pontiacs would start overtime with the man advantage but the MOB penalty killers were perfect on the night and killed it off. The MOB would get a powerplay of their own in overtime when Curtis Roach was tripped by Derek Brown. However, just like the MOB, the Pontiacs were perfect on the penalty kill in the game and the game would play on.
The Pontiacs had two glorious opportunities in the first overtime. The first off the stick of Brown on a two on one where Szudor slid across and robbed him. The second off a partial break from Brendan Holterhus but it was Szudor again standing tall and making one of his 48 saves in the game.
The MOB had the best chance of overtime when Fraser fed a wide open Ralph at the side of the goal. Ralph ripped a shot but Silvestre came out of no where and made his biggest of his 38 saves on the night and left the arena in disbelief.
The Pontiacs outshot the MOB 18-7 in the overtime periods and seemed to be the stronger team as the game wore on. The game would end when Erik Donald sent a puck towards the MOB’s goal that hit a body and landed on the stick of Stewart for his first career post season goal.
“They challenge you down low to beat you net front and that’s exactly what happened on the goal,” said Keca on the OT winner. “They got the puck to the point and got a shot through and whoever was in the corner for us, their guy beat and it was a garbage goal and those are the types of goals that are real difference makers come playoff time.”
The two teams will meet again for Game 2 of the series Sunday night at the Casman Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Tom Keca post game show.