Photo – Em Rose Photography:
BROOKS, AB (April 14, 2017) – The Brooks Bandits broke a 1-1 deadlock and scored eight consecutive goals, cruising to a 9-1 win over the visiting Whitecourt Wolverines in front of a near-capacity crowd of 2,356 at the Centennial Regional Arena in Brooks on Friday night, taking a 1-0 series lead in the AJHL Gas Drive Cup Final.
The Bandits held a 3-1 lead after the first but took firm control in the second period, outshooting Whitecourt 19-3 in the frame and scoring four more times. Brooks outshot Whitecourt 50-26 in the game.
The Bandits opened the scoring 2:24 into the game when Conner Jean (Oakland, MI) backhanded a close range shot off the rush between the pads of Whitecourt goalie Pierce Diamond, who got a piece but not enough as the puck slid over the goal line. But only 37 seconds after that, the Wolverines converted on a 2-on-1 rush as Eric Krienke fed Morgan Messenger at the right hashmarks for a perfectly placed wrister that flew over the glove hand of Mitch Benson (Windsor, ON) to knot the score at 1-1.
That tie was broken less than three minutes later on a sensational play by Ty Mappin (Big Valley, AB), who collected the puck in the slot, but had his back to the net. He nonetheless flicked the puck between his skates backward to Arnaud Vachon (Ajax, ON) who was waiting at the backdoor to tap in the eventual game-winning goal.
With just over three minutes left in the period, a Whitecourt miscue led to a key goal when Wolverine defenders Nick Quillan and Eric Krienke collided with each other in their defensive zone. Krienke was injured on the play, but with the Bandits maintaining possession, play continued and Parker Foo (Edmonton, AB) centered a puck from the left corner to Orca Wiesblatt (Calgary, AB) in the slot, and the rookie Bandit forward fired a wrister over Diamond’s glove for his first career playoff goal in his first career playoff game, to give Brooks a 3-1 lead after the first.
Brooks made it 4-1 just 1:25 into the middle frame when Jean fed Foo on a cross-ice pass that the Bandit veteran one-timed past Diamond from the slot. Another collision between two Whitecourt defenders in their own end led to another turnover, and Nathan Plessis (Salmon Arm, B.C.) tucked a quick backhand by Diamond to make it 5-1 at the 6:49 mark. On an ensuing Bandit power play, Jean got his second of the game on a one-time slapshot from the right circle at 8:48, making it 6-1 and chasing Diamond from the crease, as he was replaced by backup Sam-Jaxon Visscher.
Vachon jammed home a power play rebound goal at 10:58 to further extend the Bandit lead and make it 7-1. Brooks added two more in the third; the first a Josh McKechney (Calgary, AB) wrister from the slot off a setup by Foo, and the second a Wiesblatt wrister on the power play from the left side of the Whitecourt net that snuck in short side on Visscher for the Bandit rookie’s second of the game.
Benson made 25 saves on 26 shots in the win, as the Bandits went 3 for 6 on the power play and 5 for 5 on the penalty kill.
Game 2 is Saturday night at the CRA at 7:00 PM with tickets available online at tickets.brooksbandits.ca.