It took just over 81 white-knuckle minutes to find a victor Sunday night in the playoff battle between the Charleswood Hawks and Pembina Valley Twisters, 81 minutes of flying skates and aching legs and almost-chances.
Something always has to break. In the second overtime of game 3 of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League championship series at Charleswood’s Eric Coy Arena, it finally did: with eight minutes and 53 seconds left to go, Twisters winger Tyler Groening carried the puck around the net, skated in front and slipped it behind Hawks goalie Lucas Felbel.
"I just caught the puck in my stomach, and I knew I didn’t have much time," Groening said minutes later, as victory music pumped from the Pembina Valley dressing room. "I just tried to get my wheels in motion. I didn’t have a good shot opportunity, so I tried the wrap-around and it worked out."
The light went on, but the referee’s arm stayed down. For about 60 tense seconds, the Twisters fans stood and waited as officials conferred.
The goal was good, giving the Twisters a 4-3 victory a 2-1 series lead. "It was a little scary, a lot of those calls don’t go our way in the past," Groening said. "It was good to have one go our way."
If it didn’t, it might have been a heartbreaker for the Twisters, who looked poised to win the game 3-2 after they battled to protect an Alex Tetrault go-ahead goal. But they took an interference penalty in the dying seconds of the third, and with the Hawks goalie yanked, Charleswood’s Sean Kubas scored his fourth marker of the playoffs to tie it up with only 22 seconds left to play.
The Twisters could have faltered then. Instead, they poured it on harder: they wound up outshooting the Hawks 51 to 41. "It was a bit of a roller-coaster, there was a lot of people on the edge of their seats," said Pembina Valley head coach Derek Mohr. "This group just kept an even keel, and it paid off... we didn’t hang our heads for one second, because we knew if we did, it would go the other way."
It was the kind of game that leaves bruises, as bodies flew into boards and piled in seething scrums around the nets.
The Twisters opened scoring in the first period, as Groening collected a rebound behind the Hawks net, worked it out in front and sent it flying past Hawks goalie Lucas Felbel. They held that lead for a while, until a scrum at the Twisters net put the Hawks on a power play early in the second period; the Hawks' David LaFleche tied it up with a power-play goal.
Nine minutes later, Charleswood’s Alex Hollyoake was rewarded after a scrappy shift in the Twisters zone, pushing the Hawks ahead. It wouldn’t last — with just under three minutes left in the second and the Hawks' Brett Harvie in the sin bin for roughing, Twister Jory Coates took a rebound off Felbel’s pad and shoveled it into the net to tie the game.
In the end, the Twisters won this round. And as they look to head home to Morris for the fourth game of the series Tuesday nioght, that means a shot of confidence against a powerhouse Charleswood team. Indeed, the Hawks came into the final as favourites, after they bulldozed through their MMJHL season with a record of 37-4-4. That said, they struggled most against Pembina Valley’s sticks, splitting their regular season series 2-2-1.
The second game of the final series, a thrilling Twisters overtime victory, finally snapped the Hawks’ post-season win streak at nine games.
"We take pride in how we play at home," Groening said. "We don’t like to lose at home too often, so it’s a good advantage. We’re happy."
Game 4 is slated for 8 p.m. Tuesday at Morris Arena.