The Smithers Steelheads stifled the Terrace River Kings’ comeback in a thrilling 5-4 victory to take game one of the west division playoff series.
“I thought we had a really great performance. Every player did what they had to do. We got lucky and got some extra goals and won,” said head coach Tom Devries. “Checking is huge, just trying not to do too much other than play the game . . . especially with our team, we have good offensive players and if we play defence right, good things will happen.”
Both teams came out strong and physical and had some quality scoring chances right out of the gate in the best-of-three series.
It was the home team that would draw first blood.
Rookie Brendan Devries netted his first of two on the night, a goal that netminder Patrick Leal would probably like to have back. Adam Devries and Randall Groot picked up the helpers.
But the River Kings answered right back with a shot from defenceman Nick Homeniuk at the blueline.
The road team took their first lead of the game after a scramble in front of the net with forward Steve Cullis poking it home, past goalie David Little at 3:25.
When it looked like the Steelheads would finish the first frame with a one-goal deficit, Brendan Devries wristed a shot and found the back of the net with just a second left on the clock.
Heading into the second period, the momentum swung in favour of the Steelheads with rookie Jaden Janzen getting one past Leal.
Adam Devries would net another five minutes after Janzen’s, making it 4-3 for the home team at the end of the middle frame.
In the final period, the River Kings tied it up early with a shot from defenceman Toby Mitchell.
But penalties got the River Kings intro trouble. First, forward Corbin Legros got called for boarding after nailing Groot into the boards. Then Chapen Lebond got called for slashing, resulting in a five-on-three Steelheads powerplay.
Janzen wasted no time capitalizing on the special teams and buried it glove-side at 8:18 for the game-winning goal.
In the dying minutes of the game, the River Kings pulled Leal and a late shot block by Groot all but sealed the nail-biting victory.
“I thought I did my best to contribute, it was a good team effort. I was in the right place at the right time,” said Janzen, who had two goals and an assist on the night.
“It was high intensity, the boys were really pumped up and the crowd was really great. It was a good energy from the whole team.”
In the end, it came down to brilliant performances by Little, who faced 45 shots on net, and Leal, who saw 29.
“This game he looked really good,” said Devries of Little.
“There were a couple of goals I’d like to have back, but there are always goals like that. I thought I played well,” said Little, who finished with a 0.918 save percentage on Saturday. “It was just a high-intensity game . . . I felt good.”
The Steelheads will hit the road to Terrace for the second game of the series on Saturday evening.
“The adrenaline is still there. The game in Terrace is going to be crazy. They played fantastic tonight, they had good scoring chances. We have a couple of guys going away for work. We just have to play smart and play the game and try not to get involved in all the extracurricular stuff,” said Devries.
In other CIHL playoff action, the Quesnel Kangaroos defeated the Williams Lake Stampeders 6-5 on Saturday night.