PHOTO – The Eagles celebrate with goaltender Ryan Bontorin after Sunday's 5-3 victory in Drumheller.
Story courtesy of Russ Ullyot – Postmedia – Crag and Canyon
While it was not a do-or-die game for the Canmore Eagles, Sunday afternoon's Alberta Junior Hockey League playoff game against the Drumheller Dragons was a game they knew they couldn't afford to lose.
To that end, Canmore's big line of Matt Forchuk, Logan Ferguson and Lane Olson delivered maybe their best performance since being reunited in the second half of the season and led their team to an impressive 5-3 win.
The victory gives Canmore a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Game 4 is Monday, 7 p.m. in Drumheller.
Forchuk had two goals and an assist, Ferguson had one goal and two assists, and Olson two assists in the contest. The line was broken up all of January as Olson sat out with an injury. While they showed glimpses of their pre-Christmas selves during February, they finally looked to put it all together on Sunday.
“I thought that line was outstanding,” said Andrew Milne, Eagles general manager and head coach, “Forchuk was really on his game tonight and was a really dominant force. … I thought (Ferguson and Olson) had control of the puck and made high-end plays.”
Also scoring for Canmore were Brett Radford, his second of the series, and Coy Prevost, whose third-period goal stood up as the game winner.
Drumheller goals came from Clint Filbrandt, his second of the playoffs, Scott Ivey and Levi Wunder.
Wunder returned to the lineup after missing most of Game 1 after taking a big hit along the boards from Eagles' Daylan Marchi and all of Game 2. He was used sparingly in Game 3.
The Dragons' Braeden Salverda had two assists in the contest and has four helpers in the series.
There was no change in goaltending with Ryan Bontorin in the net for Canmore and Jonny Hogue for Drumheller with the Eagles outshooting the Dragons 31-29.
“I thought Drumheller threw everything they had at us in the first period, and although I wasn't all that happy with the way we played in that period, we withstood them, and then we started to dominate in the second period and took over the game,” Milne said.
For the third consecutive game, the Dragons scored the first goal.
Ivey scored at 11:25 of the opening period, and it came just seconds after Canmore killed off the game's first penalty. The Dragon grabbed the puck behind the Eagles' goal and after circling back to the blue line, he then turned into the middle and wired a shot past Bontorin's blocker.
Drumheller outshot Canmore 10-6.
Maybe looking to physically dominant the game in the second period, the Dragons came out overly aggressive and it proved costly as they took a pair of minors at the same time. On the 5-on-3 power play, Radford would stuff the puck into the goal at 2:56 to tie the game at 1-1.
“That is the threat we have,” Milne said. “It is a legitimate threat and you have to play disciplined against us.”
The Eagles led the AJHL in power-play goals over the course of the regular season with 82 goals and an impressive 25.47 percentage, and have scored three power-play goals in this series – including two in Friday's victory.
The Dragons returned to a more composed team the remainder of the game, staying out of the penalty box the rest of the way.
Forchuk, who now leads all Canmore scorers with four points (2G-2A) would give the Eagles a short-lived lead midway through the second period, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play with a tap in from in front of the goal at 13:44, with linemates Ferguson and Olson working the puck up the ice and to the front of the goal. The play was a welcome sign of things to come for the Eagles.
However, the advantage lasted just 19 seconds. Filbrandt joined Salverda on a 2-on-1 rush and backhanded a centring pass into the Eagles goal.
The Eagles big line was back at their playmaking best again in the third period, this time it was Ferguson at 5:28 with the tap-in as Forchuk and Olson moved the puck around in the Dragons' end.
Prevost would make it a two-goal lead when he slapped in a rebound off a Braden Saretsky shot at 7:28. Milne credited Adam Tisdale for creating a 2-on-1 situation that led to the scoring play and what proved to be the game winner, although the scoresheet, did not reflect his contribution.
“That was a great play by Tisdale, when he chipped it up the wall [at his own blue line] to make it sure it got to Saretsky with the Dragons' big D-man (Isaac) Schacher ready to lay out a big hit. (Tisdale) had the skill level to make that play and make it a 2-on-1.”
Wunder would pull Drumheller back within one goal when he fired the puck off the iron at 9:40 on a rush down the left wing.
In the final five minutes of the contest, the Eagles turned to a possession game making the Dragons come at them as they looked to protect their lead. Playing on their heels could have proved costly in the final couple of minutes.
Drumheller would get a late power play chance when Braiden Doucette took a hooking penalty at 17:21. However, it would be a costly Dragons' miscue deep in their own zone when trying to set up a rush that would seal an Eagles' win. The puck squirted to a wide open Forchuk, who scored his second of the game into an empty net with 39 seconds to play.
Canmore is not staying in Drumheller on Sunday night, rather making the two-and-a-half bus ride back to the Bow Valley.
“The good news is we are going to get home relatively early tonight and the players will get to sleep in their own beds,” Milne said. “We want to treat this as typically routine. We do it all year going to Drumheller and out, so we want to keep the guys in the same routine – especially with a 4 o'clock game.”
EAGLES NEST: While there was 125 penalty minutes in Friday's contest, Sunday's game featured just five minor penalties – three to Drumheller. … Scratches for Canmore were Cole Noble, Ryley Risling, Kyle Pauls and Brayden Biccum. … Drumheller was without Evan Tschumi, suspended for his major penalty for a check from behind on Adam Tisdale in Friday's game. … Nolan Kent was again pressed into the role of emergency backup goaltender for the Dragons with Xavier Burghardt unable to dress. ..The first two games of this series were played in Canmore. Drumheller won the opening game of the 4-1 on Thursday and Canmore won the second game 5-2 on Friday. … Should a Game 5 be necessary it will be played at the Canmore Recreation Centre on Wednesday, beginning at 7 p.m.