Bisons have Cubs cornered
Hockey: Okotoks takes commanding 3-0 series lead on Medicine Hat
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 06:00 am
Patience has been the Okotoks Bisons’ most treasured virtue in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League semifinals.
After peppering Medicine Hat Cubs netminder Cole Schafer for three periods, Bisons enforcer Zach Baba finally solved the rookie goaltender to score the game-winning-goal on a howitzer with 2:32 left in Okotoks’ 4-2 win in Game 3, Sunday at Murray Arena.
“Bryce Honish made a good play getting it in the zone and I was yelling for it, he gave it to me and it was just a quick shot,” Baba said of the dramatic marker. “The coaches have been telling us to shoot all game and luckily it went in.”
Baba’s second goal of the series showcased the Bisons’ depth in their forward corps, a hallmark of the two-time defending league champions.
“It feels pretty good. I always want to try and contribute. I’m on the fourth line and we do our role, but it’s always nice to chip one in when some guys aren’t going,” Baba added. “We deserved it. We played hard all game.”
The two-goal victory earned Okotoks a 3-0 stranglehold on the best-of-seven semifinal series.
Facing a near must-win situation, the Cubs had a dream start to Game 3 when Ben Feere beat Bison goalie Alex Bilton just three minutes into the contest.
Medicine Hat had a golden opportunity to double the lead when Dylan Griep was ruled to have hooked Cub Josh Marshall on a partial breakaway, leading to a penalty shot for the Medicine Hat forward with 3:21 left in the opening frame.
Bilton stymied Marshall with a stick save to keep it 1-0.
Okotoks responded just 30 seconds later on a five-on-three powerplay when Bison Matt Howatt found the back of the net on a snipe from the left circle. With the second penalty coming to an end, the puck trickled out to a wide-open Spencer Samuel who tucked it into the yawning cage to give Okotoks a 2-1 lead.
Cubs head coach Brad Cobb called the penalty shot miss a major turning point.
“He puts that in it’s a 2-0 game and maybe the gas catches them a little bit,” Cobb said. “It would have been nice to put that one in.”
Following a period of puck possession for Okotoks, Medicine Hat made good on the powerplay when Cody Florkowski tipped in a pass from Marshall to deadlock the game at 2-2 late in the middle frame.
The third period featured a dogged Bisons’ attack with little to show for the persistence due to the steadying presence of Schafer in goal.
“Their goalie has been the difference the whole time,” said Bisons head coach Mike Hannigan. “He’s keeping them in the series.”
Following Baba’s game-winner, Phil Dillon buried an empty-netter for the fourth and final goal of the tilt.
Okotoks took Games 1 and 2 in the home-and-away alternating series by scores of 6-4 and 7-4.
“We have an inexperienced team. We haven’t made the playoffs in a few years here and a lot of kids have never played in a playoff series at all,” Cobb said. “That’s kind of the difference right now. (Okotoks) is a veteran club.”
The Bisons can move on to the league final tonight, March 13, as the Cubs host Game 4 in Medicine Hat. If necessary, Game 5 would be Friday in Okotoks at 8 p.m.
“We just have to keep pushing and playing 60 minutes and wish for the best,” Cobb said. “That toughest game to win is that closing game. We’ve got nothing to lose and have to play desperate Wednesday night.”
The Bisons are intimately familiar with the fact a 3-0 series lead doesn’t guarantee anything. Okotoks was down 3-0 to these same Cubs in the 2010 post-season before storming back to win the series in seven games.
“It can happen,” Hannigan said. “And there are guys on the team who were involved in that so they’re well aware of that.”
Okotoks Bisons defenceman Michael Savage paid the price for a dramatic goal in the first game of the series.
On a shift to remember, Savage was blindsided by a hit at centre ice and after taking a number of the prime suspect he delivered a couple punishing hits.
The puck then trickled to Savage on a breakaway and after being stopped on the initial shot, the Okotokian fell an all fours to bury the rebound five-hole. The great second effort put Savage head first and out of control as he fell into the boards.
Savage hasn’t seen the ice since the injury and is being evaluated this week for what is termed an “upper body injury” by general manager Jay McFarlane.