The Steelheads didn’t make it easy on themselves, but in the end they came through with a 4-1 win over the Terrace River Kings in the deciding game of the CIHL semifinals, after dropping game two the previous night in overtime.
After their convincing 8-2 thumping of the River Kings last weekend at home, the Steelheads’ prospects looked good heading into game two on Saturday night.
The teams exchanged goals in the first period. After the River Kings went up 1-0, the Steelheads red-hot powerplay went to work and brought them back even.
The second was more of the same, back and forth, the two teams exchanging leads.
The Steelheads built up a 3-1 lead, only to see it evaporate shortly after.
They regained a one-goal lead in the third off captain Daryl Young’s second of the game, but Terrace tied it up on a lucky shot that deflected off Ryan DeVries skate and into the top corner.
Tied at five after 60, the game went to sudden death.
In overtime, the River Kings carried the play, and eventually got a lucky bounce off a deflection that trickled down Tyler Perreault’s back and into the net.
The refs didn’t see it and the Steelheads protested, but it was called a goal.
With the win, Terrace forced a winner take-all-game three the following afternoon.
“It was a heartbreaking way to lose,” Perreault said, after stopping 43 shots in the loss.
“I thought that losing Eric Smith the next game and being down to only 13 skaters, that we might be in a world of hurt on Sunday.”
Everything was going against the Steelheads heading into game two.
The River Kings were well rested, after the Steelheads travelled two hours each way both the night after game two and the morning of game three.
And the home team had a full bench to the Steelheads’ 13 skaters.
The Steelheads were also without two key players, in stalwart defenceman Ian Smith and forward Stu Barnes, who each had prior commitments.
Fortunately, they welcomed Josh Aspenlind back to the fold after he had missed the previous night’s game.
They knew their backs were up against the wall.
“We just said to ourselves, if we don’t go out and play the best game we’ve ever played then we are in trouble,” Perreault said.
He certainly held up his end of the bargain.
The Steelheads jumped to a two-goal lead in the first period, off markers from defenceman Ryan DeVries and agitator Randall Groot.
The River Kings got their share of shots in the first period, but Perreault was equal to the task.
It stayed 2-0 until the final minute of the second period when Matt Arnold popped in his first of the game to give the three-goal cushion heading into the final frame.
With the way Perreault was playing, three goals was more than enough.
The Steelheads added one more, for good measure, just two minutes into the third, off Randall Groot’s second of the game
From there, the Steelheads tightened up defensively to protect their lead.
The River Kings finally solved Perreault with five minutes left in the third period, but it was too little too late.
The seconds ticked down and the Steelheads were headed for their third straight CIHL final.
“It’s a great feeling,” head coach Tom DeVries said.
“It’s not going to be an easy final though.”
For the third straight year, the Steelheads will face the Williams Lake Stampeders, who will look to exact some revenge after their losses in 2012 and 2013.
Williams Lake finished with the best regular season record in the CIHL this season at 13-4-1.
They also scored the most goals (109), an average of just over six per game.
“They’re probably the most talented team in the league,” DeVries said.
“They play a skilled game, and when they are at home with their full lineup, they are tough to beat.”
Williams Lake advanced after defeating the Quesnel Kangaroos this past weekend.
The Steelheads will host game one of the best-of-three series on Saturday, before heading to Williams Lake the following weekend for games two and three (if necessary). The puck drops at 7:30