Warriors oust Rangers and face Cold Lake in second round
The Saddle Lake Warriors advanced to the second round of the NEAJBHL playoffs with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Vegreville Rangers last Wednesday, but currently sit in a 2-0 hole against their current opponents, the Cold Lake Ice.
After Saddle Lake won Game 4 to put Vegreville on the brink of elimination at 3-1, the Rangers battled back into things and managed to force Game 7 with a 5-1 win in Saddle Lake last Monday, setting the stage for a thriller in Vegreville last Wednesday.
“They battled hard, they didn’t give up. (Dyllon) Laboucan was the difference,” said Warriors head coach Darryl Buck. “To come win in this building, and just for the boys to really see that it can happen and believe that it can happen, we came a long way from the beginning of this season and I’m very proud of the boys today.”
Game 7 was everything it promised to be, physical, tightly contested and exciting down to the last shot. While the Rangers seemed to have the upper hand in the game, offensively pushing the Warriors and out-shooting the team 41-16 through 60 minutes, Warriors net-minder Laboucan was not about to accept a first-round exit.
“I tried to stay calm and keep my team in there and hoped they could battle back and they did,” Laboucan said, adding it was especially rewarding to deal the Rangers a post-season exit on their own ice. “It feels awesome. To do it in their barn is just that extra boost, and in overtime? It just feels great.”
While the Warriors held a 1-0 lead after two periods on a goal from Silas Makokis, Rangers forward Jonas Lopushinsky knotted things up only eight seconds into the third period, and Wyatt Watson added another four minutes later to steal the lead from Saddle Lake.
With the season on the line, Makokis stepped up for the Warriors and slotted the tying goal past Sam Bohaychuk on the power play from Braedin Makokis-McGilvery and Dallas Desjarlais.
“We have a solid (goalie). We trust him, he can keep us in there but it’s our job to perform and help him out and score goals while he saves them,” said Makokis-McGilvery, who put up five goals and five assists in the series. “The (Rangers) played us smart, they played us hard and it was a great series. Hopefully we can carry it over against Cold Lake.”
When the remaining time on the clock solved nothing, tensions rose and the teams took the ice for overtime.
With two minutes left in the first overtime period, Dillan Alexis fired his fourth goal of the post season past Bohaychuk, clearing the Warriors bench and lifting Saddle Lake to a 4-3 victory in the series.
“I wasn’t expecting that but it was something,” Alexis said following the Game 7 victory. “I just got it and thought I had to hit the next at least, and I hit the net, and then I saw everyone celebrating because I didn’t know it went in.”
The Warriors opened the second round series against the Cold Lake Ice on Friday, falling 8-3 in Game 1 and 9-3 in Game 2. The series will move to Saddle Lake at Manitou Kehiw Arena with Game 3 on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and Game 4 on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
In other league news the Wainwright Bisons currently lead the Killam Wheat Kings 2-0 in their best-of-seven series. The winner of each series will face off in NEAJBHL finals later this month.