PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — A cornered animal can be a scary and ferocious beast best advised not to be poked at with a pointy stick.
Case in point, we give you the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Portage Terriers, a bunch that bared some fang Wednesday night in a 3-2 win over the Humboldt Broncos that helped them stave off elimination in the ANAVET Cup.
The victory, played in front of 868 at the Portage Credit Union Centre, cuts the Broncos’ lead in the series to 3-1 with Game 5 tonight in Portage. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be in Humboldt on the weekend.
"Even before tonight we were all positive saying, ‘This is fine. We’ve done it before. We’ve beat better teams than this and we’ve just got to keep playing like we’ve been playing,’", said Terriers goaltender Adam Iwan, who was outstanding in kicking out 31 of 33 shots. "Beating them tonight shows that we can beat them any day and that they’re not going to dominate us like they did in the first game. We can play with them any day."
Yes, that was very much in doubt as the series opened last weekend in Humboldt with 8-2 and 6-3 wins by the Broncos, who then took a stranglehold in Tuesday’s 2-1 victory. But the Terriers have found their bark as this series has progressed and, despite having to kill six consecutive penalties and a double-minor to end the game, got some spectacular work by their special teams to stay alive in the series.
They also answered, at least temporarily, any concerns they may have just been taking a pass in this match-up in order to get healthy and regroup for next week’s RBC Cup in Humboldt. The Broncos, as the hosts, and the Terriers are both participating in the national championship.
"I knew our guys wanted to get one here and they didn’t want to get swept," said Terriers GM and head coach Blake Spiller. "Hopefully we’ll have the same effort (tonight). I’ve been around these guys long enough to know they’ve got lots of character and they’re not going to say, ‘Oh, this one is just for fun. They played for keeps here tonight and it was a good effort by our guys."
The Terriers jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the game was seven minutes old — the first time in the series they have been ahead — on goals by Mike Gemmill and Justin Slobozian. But the Broncos rallied on goals by Ryan Marshall and Adam Zbitniff to tie the score in the third period.
That set the stage for a dramatic finish that saw Portage product Tanner Waldvogel slam home a rebound on a wraparound attempt by Shaq Merasty with 4:19 left before Iwan & Co. sealed the deal with some solid netminding/penalty-kill work in the dying moments.
"We played a pretty solid game," said Waldvogel. "We had a lot of penalties against us... we deserved some, but some probably not so much. Our penalty killers were phenomenal. All in all it was just a real good team effort.
"On the goal, I was just standing in front and Shaq walked around and almost scored. I was just fortunate to turn around, the puck was right there and I jammed at it. It feels real good, especially with our season kind of on the line. It keeps us going a little longer and proved we can beat them.
"This series isn’t over yet."