AJHL Division Finals (March 28th)

By pbadmin

St. Albert 5 at Lloydminster 3 (Series tied 3-3)
A headline in the Lloydminster paper after the St. Albert Saints avoided a potential sweep to make a 3-0 series into a 3-1 series summed it all up.
‘Not so fast.’

The Saints have suddenly stormed their way back into the series in a big way and are now poised to become only the third team in AJHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit. The other two were the 1975 Calgary Canucks and the 1993 Sherwood Park Crusaders. In front of almost 1400 fans at the Lloydminster civic centre, a boisterous crowd of 70 or 80 St. Albert fans drowned out the Lloyd contingent at times. The Saints had a good feeling about this game going in for certain. Instead of a Lloydminster-area official, the referee was from Bonnyville and called a very good game. Also, the club felt that they had worn down the Blazer defence corps – Siemens, Lorentz, Esdale and Werner – since Lloyd had only been using four defencemen mainly throughout the entire series. The other two defencemen, Denham and Morris, have played each game but have only seen limited ice.

Only 38 seconds into the game, the Blazers showed they weren’t going to make it easy for the Saints on this night. Kyle Werner’s point shot was tipped by Mark Hallam. The goal was Hallam’s eighth of the playoffs. The Blazers really dominated the first four minutes of the game or so until Ron Grimard broke in with the Saints’ first shot on net. The club had another decent opportunity shortly thereafter as Marc Collins had a partial break but was stopped point-blank by Lloydminster netminder Ray Fraser.

The Saints finally dented Fraser’s armour at the 8:40 mark of the first period. Brent Robertson broke in along the left side and by the Lloyd defence one-on-one. He then proceeded to put the puck through Fraser’s legs. Then, with 2:41 to go in the first, Saints captain Mike Buchan made a nice play to get the puck around a defender. Former Blazer Jeebo Manah picked up the loose puck and deposited it in the top corner. The Saints went to the intermission with a 2-1 advantage on the scoreboard and a 15-7 edge on the shot clock.

The Blazers put on the most pressure in the second. With Paul Jowett in the penalty box for St. Albert, Travis Barnes hit the goal post. Several minutes later, however, the Blazers leading point-getter in the playoffs Scott Pratt showed why he’s become the go-to guy as he ripped a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that was labelled for the top right-hand corner. The game was tied 2-2 and appeared to be that way headed into the intermission.

But it’s the little things that have made the Saints season as memorable as it has been. With about ten seconds left, Marc Collins ripped a shot that went off Fraser’s shoulder and out of the rink. There would be a faceoff with 3.5 seconds left and one last chance to re-take the lead. The Saints won the faceoff and sent it back to the point where Paul Jowett teed it up. Mike Buchan deflected it and the Saints scored – just barely beating out the buzzer. The goal would prove to be very important.

In the third period, the Grimard-Beranek-Bastien line for the Saints had several very good opportunities to score about four minutes in. Their momentum carried over to the next shift as Darren Peebles scored his third of the playoffs on a rebound during a mad scramble in front of the net to give the Saints a two-goal cushion. It didn’t take the Blazers long to match that goal, however, as Mark Hallam scored his ninth of the playoffs and second of the night with 14:30 to go to make it 4-3. For the next three minutes or so the Saints were having a lot of trouble penetrating the Blazers zone and it took a quick rush by Ron Grimard to change the momentum back the other way, if every so slightly.

From then on, the Blazers never really threatened and Rob Ziemmer added an empty-netter with 43.9 seconds to go. The St. Albert Saints have lived yet again to see another day. The atmosphere in the dressing room after the game while jubilant wasn’t overly-excited. The club knows there’s one game left to go and that game is Wednesday, March 31st at Akinsdale Arena in St. Albert. The winner advances to meet Calgary in the AJHL Championship.

Olds 2 at Calgary Canucks 5 (Canucks win 4-1)
While there were miracles all around in Lloydminster this afternoon, it wasn’t going to happen in Calgary as the Canucks did the expected, defeating the Olds Grizzlys and advancing to the AJHL Championship.
It took awhile for the Canucks to set themselves apart from the Grizzlys in this game but, like two of their other three wins, a late goal was needed to take the win out of the Grizzlys sails.

Dany Heatley opened the scoring for the Canucks just under ten minutes into the game, assisted by Moe Halat and Ryan Manitowich. That was all the scoring to be done in the first, however. In the second, the Grizzlys tied the game at one as Greg Davis scored early on the powerplay. As has been the case for most of the series, though, it took the Canucks less than two minutes to re-take the lead. While shorthanded, Dany Heatley broke in on Olds goaltender Leonid Hryshukevitch and scored. The Grizzlys continued to persevere, though and tied the game up again as Colen Pappas scored his fifth of the playoffs. But then the Canucks took over. With 46 seconds left in the period, Ryan Manitowich scored what would be the game winner. Despite outshooting Calgary 14-5 the Grizzlys went to the intermission down by a goal.

Dany Heatley, with his third of the game, and Ryan Manitowich scored a couple of goals early in the third to make it 5-2 Canucks. From then on, the rest of the game was merely a formality as the team with the best regular season record in AJHL history now try their shot at the finals.

Three Stars
(1) Mike Buchan – Saints captain scored decisive goal in dying seconds of second period.
(2) Dany Heatley – Three goals, one assist leads way for the Canucks yet again.
(3) Ryan Manitowich – Had two goals – including the game winner – and one assist.
On Tap
March 31st Lloydminster Blazers at St. Albert Saints, 7:30pm MT
Best-of-seven series tied 3-3