It’s safe to say that this South Division final has lived up to the hype. Fans have been treated to four of the best hockey games they’ll see all season. Both teams – the Brooks Bandits and Okotoks Oilers – are playing at an extremely high level of hockey which you cannot take your eyes off. Heading into game five at the Parson Centennial Centre we have a 2-2 tied series after Tanner Laderoute tipped home Ryan Roberts shot from the point in triple overtime in game four – more on that later.
The opening goal of the series came off the stick of Marc Pasenko on their second shot of the period midway through the first. A pass from Zach Kindrachuk deflected off Pasenko and passed Mitch Benson to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead. Okotoks then piled on the pressure – following a powerplay – and grabbed their second goal of the game after Mitch Benson couldn’t handle a Quinn Olson shot, and the rebound fell perfectly to Kyle Gordon who tapped into an empty net with six seconds left in the first. In the second, the special teams came alive with both teams netting a powerplay goal. Brooks pulled within one when Dennis Cesena played the puck from behind the net to Connor Jean in front who made no mistakes. The home team responded accordingly when Nick Blankenberg wristed one passed Benson on his team's fourth powerplay of the game, regaining the Oilers two-goal lead: 3-1 Okotoks. The final goal of the opening contest went to Tanner Laderoute who went in on an empty net but was tripped by a Bandits defenceman, so the goal was automatically awarded.
Moving onto game two, which was highly entertaining right up until the final buzzer. The Oilers looked to be well on track to giving themselves a 2-0 series lead after both Laderoute and Wong had given their team a goal advantage. Then, with less than five minutes to go, the Bandits’ offense struck. First, a powerplay goal from Captain Clutch – Dennis Cesena – cut the goal difference to one. Cesena received a pass from PA Martineau at centre then skated between two Okotoks defenders and sniped the puck into the top left corner of Riley Morris’ net. Brooks was not done. With 54 seconds left in the third period, a one-timer from Cesena was deflected past Morris by Mack Hancock who tied the game up at 2-2. But the drama wasn’t over; this is the playoffs after all. Off the proceeding centre ice faceoff, Nathan Plessis tipped the puck into the Oilers zone and right into the path of Jake Theis who beat a sprawling Morris to give the Bandits the win and tie up the series. This is a moment that will not be forgotten for a long time. The victory also ends the Oilers 29 game winning streak; the last time they lost prior to this one was back on December 29th when they fell 2-1 to the Drumheller Dragons.
Games three and four saw a venue switch with Okotoks traveling to the Centennial Regional Arena.
Okotoks was looking to get back to winning ways, but Mitch Benson had other ideas. The Windsor, Ontario, native played his best game of the series, and possibly the playoffs, stopping 36 of the 37 shots that he faced. The only puck to get by him was a snapshot from Jacob Bernard-Docker on a powerplay in the second frame. A top performance from Benson and a couple of goals from Simon Boyko and Nathan Plessis were all it took for the Bandits to take a 2-1 series lead. With them handing Okotoks another loss, it was the first time that the regular season champions had lost two games in a row since November 11th, 2017. Oddly enough, they got back in the win column the following night with a 5-1 victory against none other than their South finals opponent the Brooks Bandits.
On Tuesday, the two southern powerhouses collided for game four of this unbelievable series and this game was a thriller. Bernard-Docker lit the lamp first beating Benson just 45 seconds into the opening frame, which set a tone for what was to come. The lamp kept going on at the CRA with three goals being scored in less than two minutes. First up, Luke Bast responded for Brooks with his first goal, and 11th point of the playoffs, then quickly after, Nic Hamre found the back of the net for his third of the postseason and the Bandits first lead of the contest. That lead only lasted 22 seconds however, as the Oilers went down the ice and responded perfectly, courtesy of Kyle Gordon. One more goal would be scored in the opening 20 after Zach Kindrachuk netted the Oilers third making it 3-2 to end the frame. Despite all the goals, both netminders seemed to focus in for the final four minutes and made some massive saves doing whatever it took for their team to win. In the second, only Marc Pasemko found the net which made it 4-2. Now usually Okotoks would hold onto a lead like that, but as we saw in game two, the Bandits are more than capable of making a comeback, and that’s precisely what they did. The rally began when Nic Hamre grabbed his second of the game to pull his team within one, then, once again, Captain Clutch Dennis Cesana, stepped up for his team to tie the game up at 4-4. The game was tied after 60 minutes which mean’t we were off to overtime.
Both teams had their fair share of chances, but Benson and Morris remained stubborn and refused to be beaten. After trading chances and powerplays neither team could break the deadlock throughout the first two overtime periods. Then finally, midway through the third period of overtime, Tanner Laderoute silenced the home crowd when his tip of a Ryan Roberts shot made it past Benson and tied the series up at 2-2 heading into game five.
This series will get back underway on Friday night at the Pason Centennial Arena.
By Liam Horrobin @LiamHorrobin