Lloydminster 6 at St. Albert 7 OT (Saints win 4-3)
The miracle is complete. The defending 1997-98 AJHL Champion St. Albert Saints have become the first team since the 1993 Sherwood Park Crusaders and only the second team in the AJHL’s entire history (the other team was Calgary Canucks in 1975) to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Akinsdale Arena was packed to the brim (you couldn’t fit another soul in there. There were 640 people sitting and probably another 700 standing) as Saints fans anticipated their home team making history.
The Saints did not make it easy, however – far from it. It looked as if they might cruise their way to victory early on, however, as Ron Grimard scored his fifth of the playoffs from Joey Bastien and Pavel Beranek only 4:58 into the game. Seven minutes later Brent Robertson broke in along the left side and rifled one past a stunned Ray Fraser. The Saints were up 2-0 and well in command of the game. However, up to that point the Blazers had been carrying the play although the Saints were the ones that capitalized. Lloydminster did not roll over and die – in fact, they pressured even more after the Saints goal. It eventually paid off in a pair of goals just under a minute apart during a four-on-four situation in the dying minutes of the first period. Travis Barnes shot a laser that eluded Saints’ starting netminder Kirby Millar and shortly after that, Brad Hutchinson netted his first of the post-season. The two teams went to the intermission knotted at two.
St. Albert came out flying in the second and fired a good number of shots Ray Fraser’s way in the first five minutes. Eventually it paid off in Rob Ziemmer’s fourth of the playoffs. Ziemmer used his speed to break in on Fraser and find the loose puck in front of the net. The goals then started to come fast and furious. Travis Barnes scored his second of the game on a point-shot during a powerplay and about 40 seconds later he went in on Kirby Millar on a breakaway but was tripped up. Some people (mostly Saints fans) have debated that he was tripped up from the side and not directly from behind, but nevertheless Barnes was granted a penalty shot. On the penalty shot, he went five-hole on Millar. Millar got a piece of it, but not enough. The score was now 4-3 Blazers. It didn’t take the Saints long to even the score, however. 31 seconds later Jeebo Manah scored an incredible goal as he fought off a Lloyd defender and scored on the wrap-around. Manah later left the game with a separated shoulder, but he had made his presence felt. The Blazers took the lead again, 5-4, before the period would end as Scott Pratt scored a goal that just barely made it over the line from a bad angle with 47 seconds to go. But the Saints never gave up. Darren Peebles took a pass from Chris Lane right off the ensuing faceoff and broke in on the Blazers. He made a few amazing moves and out-deked Fraser for the goal. The two teams would go to intermission tied yet again, this time 5-5 in what was turning out to be a wild game.
In the third period, the Saints struck early with their first powerplay goal of the game. With Kyle Werner off for interference, the number one powerplay unit went to work. Ron Grimard took a Rob Ziemmer pass from the top of the faceoff circle and ripped the puck past Fraser. The Saints would hold their 6-5 lead until the last three minutes. It was then that Mark Hallam evened the game on a point shot that may or may not have hit several bodies in front before it found its way in the back of the net. After sixty minutes, nothing had been decided. This game – and this series – would be going to overtime.
In the extra frame, the Saints showed how badly they wanted this series. After coming all the way back from being down three games to none, they would not be denied. Lloydminster did not even manage a shot in the overtime period while the Saints poured on the pressure for four minutes.
And then it happened.
One of the hardest working Saints Mike Klassen forced a lot of traffic in front of Fraser as several Saints banged away at the puck.. Eventually, the puck squirted loose and the most unlikely of heroes – isn’t that always the way? — Nathan Kerbes moved in from the point and deposted the puck in the back of the net. The energy in the old Akinsdale Arena was incredible. The Saints players poured off the bench to congratulate their hero. Next up is a road game against the AJHL Regular Season champs Calgary Canucks for all the marbles, but the Saints aren’t worried. After overcoming what they did the last four games their confidence is sky high.
(1) Nathan Kerbes – His overtime goal ended an incredible series.
(2) Ron Grimard – Played his best game of the series. Was an offensive catalyst all night and it showed on the scoreboard.
(3) Travis Barnes – Played very well, had a hat-trick and scored on a penalty shot.
April 2nd St. Albert at Calgary Canucks, 7:30pm MT