Looking up at the clock with potentially just 20 minutes remaining in their season, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons dug deep and found another gear in the third period of Game 4 of their first round series against the Whitecourt Wolverines.
The Wolverines led 1-0 and 3-0 in the series and were looking for the sweep but the MOB had other plans. The Barons struck 4 times in the period, matching their goal total from the first 11 periods of the series en route to a 4-2 win to force a game 5 back in Whitecourt Saturday.
“Somehow we summoned up the passion in the third and I’m really impressed with what the guys brought out in the third period. You can say what you want, our backs are against the wall and we struggled all year but obviously they (the players) want to keep playing together and that’s something they showed in the third period,” said MOB Head Coach Gord Thibodeau.
For a second straight game the two teams remained scoreless through one period with both goaltenders making a number of big stops early on. Vincent Duplessis robbed Jonah Bevington and Michael Hodge on separate occasions as the Oil Barons were able to get in behind the Wolverines defence. At the other end, Evan Fradette stoned Bryce Osepchuk and Bjorn Robinson on one-timers from the slot.
The second period finally saw a break through as the MOB turned the puck over inside the Wolverines zone just as their power play had expired. Adam Sandstrom came out of the penalty box to start the rush and Joshua Corrow took a pass before firing a shot into the top right corner for his third goal of the series.
With their season on the line heading into the third period, the MOB knew they just needed one to get back into the game and they got it 1:46 into the period when Breydon Berthold whacked in a rebound off an Ethan Jones shot to tie the game.
The Wolverines would take a penalty just past the seven minute mark of the period and put a struggling MOB power play to work. The Barons went 1/8 on the man advantage in Game 3 but Game 4 would be a different story as Michael Hodge set up Taige Harding for a blast that went off the pad of Duplessis and right to Brendan Stafford who buried a shot up under the crossbar to give the MOB a 2-1 lead.
But just like the previous night when the MOB took their first lead of the series, the Wolverines responded quickly and Ethan Leyer tied the game 19 seconds later.
The MOB didn’t let the goal deflate their bench and when they received another power play opportunity, they took advantage once again. Hodge set up Harding for a second time but this time his shot beat Duplessis clean to give the MOB a 3-2 lead with 7:59 remaining.
“One of the reasons we wanted to get Taige on the power play is because he’s one of the few guys we have who shoots the puck and as you saw he got rewarded for that tonight. We’ve been preaching and harping to get that puck to the net so it was good to see him get rewarded because he’s had a strong playoff so far,” said Thibodeau on Harding who had one goal in 46 games this season.
The Barons buckled down to end the game and received a game saving stop from Fradette off Leyer and a massive shot block from Luke Harvie when Fradette was down and out. Ethan Jamernik sealed the win with an empty net goal to send the series back to Whitecourt for Game 5.
“In the past we haven’t responded well to resiliency but we did tonight and maybe that means we’re learning a little bit,” said Thibodeau after the Wolverines tied the game seconds after the MOB had taken the lead. “There were a lot of reasons to quit. You’re going into the third period of what could be your final game of the year and some how a break went our way and we took advantage of it and we live to play another game and that’s what we talked about before the game, let’s just play one more game and then go from there.”
The Wolverines now lead the best of seven series 3 games to 1 and will try to end the MOB’s season back at home on Saturday. The MOB will get a boost to their line-up for Game 5 as Hunter Lamb will return after serving his two game suspension. You can listen to all the action on Country 93.3 with Ben Maddigan. Pre-game show is at 7:15 p.m.
“We know that there’s a huge mountain to climb here but we’re putting the hard hat on and going one step at a time and follow the light and we’re going to try to play that game in Whitecourt for one more game back here at home and that’s the mindset.”