May 7, 2017
by Taylor Rocca
Regina, Sask. – More often than not, when you give the Regina Pats a power-play opportunity, they’re going to make you pay. That’s exactly what happened Saturday as the WHL Championship Series required overtime for the second consecutive night.
With Keegan Kolesar serving a minor penalty for kneeing, Josh Mahura hammered a shot from the left point that beat goaltender Carl Stankowski low, giving the Pats a 4-3 victory and evening the best-of-seven WHL Championship Series at one game apiece.
“It’s exciting – we knew we needed to win tonight, that was the bottom line,” Mahura said Saturday. “When it went in, it was a sigh of relief, not just for me but for the whole team. To tie the series up here at home is a great feeling.”
Mahura – a 19-year-old product of St. Albert, Alta. – finished the night with two goals to lead the way for Regina and his overtime heroics would not have been possible if not for a gutsy comeback on the part of his club.
After carrying a 1-0 lead into the second period, it looked as though the walls had completely crashed in on the Pats as Seattle scored three times in a span of 56 seconds in the middle period to take a 3-1 lead and silence the sold-out Brandt Centre crowd of 6,484.
“They have great offensive players and they can put you in a hole,” said John Paddock, head coach and general manager of the Pats, Saturday night. “But we regrouped and simplified. You’ve just got to grind it out. That’s what it is.”
First, Austin Strand’s long point shot hit a mass of bodies in front, trickling past goaltender Tyler Brown and over the line to get Seattle on the board 3:54 in. A matter of 16 seconds elapsed before defenceman Turner Ottenbreit hammered another point shot that made its way by Brown and just like that, the Thunderbirds claimed a 2-1 lead only 4:12 into the second period.
“He goes unnoticed a lot through the playoffs and regular season,” said Steve Konowalchuk, head coach of the Thunderbirds, following Saturday’s defeat. “He’s a steady defenceman back there that plays against top lines. He’s a warrior for us blocking shots and competing every night.”
The situation went from bad to worse for the Pats on the following shift.
Tagged for tripping 16 seconds after Ottenbreit’s marker, Wyatt Sloboshan was sent to the sin bin and the Thunderbirds were off to the power play. Again, Seattle was quick to strike as Alexander True pounced on a rebound to put his team in front 3-1.
Despite the stunning yet short stretch of misadventure, a resilient Pats squad didn’t fold.
Looking to get back within striking distance with Scott Eansor serving a tripping minor, both Nick Henry and Sam Steel had glorious opportunities to convert 28 seconds into the advantage. Henry at one side of the Seattle net and Steel at the other, both sent the rubber along the goal line, but not across. The play was reviewed and the call on the ice was confirmed, with no goal the result.
Still, the Pats pushed on.
Regina finally found the back of the net on the man advantage with 1:25 to go in the second period. With Tyler Adams already sitting down for interference, Donovan Neuls – the Game 1 overtime hero – was penalized for checking from behind after plastering Austin Wagner in the corner. Looking at 43 seconds of 5-on-3 power-play time, Paddock called for timeout. While the Adams penalty eventually expired, Mahura snuck down low and jumped on a rebound, pushing it over the goal line to pull his team back within one heading into the second intermission.
“We did some good things,” said Steve Konowalchuk, head coach of the Thunderbirds, Saturday night. “I thought we had a real good second, but at the end of the second we got into some penalty trouble, which gave them some life back, some momentum. They’re not going to quit, we know that.
“Both games, you’re watching both teams push back within the game and getting momentum, then the other team will take it back at times.”
Looking for more following 40 minutes of play, Swedish rookie Filip Ahl provided the spark in the early moments of the third period. On a great individual effort, the Ottawa Senators prospect hounded defenceman Aaron Hyman, forcing a turnover before collecting the puck and spinning a backhand shot past an unsuspecting Stankowski to tie the game 5:20 into the final period of regulation.
The two teams traded a variety of opportunities over the remainder of the third period, but none particularly threatening and for the second consecutive night, overtime was required in order to find a decision. Mahura finished off a two-goal performance from there.
Steel was quick to bring the sold-out Brandt Centre crowd to its feet Saturday night. Only 50 seconds into the affair, the Anaheim Ducks prospect converted on a turnover deep in Seattle territory, burying his ninth of the post-season past Stankowski to give the Pats their first lead of the 2017 WHL Championship.
Between the pipes, Brown made 27 saves to earn the victory, while Stankowski turned aside 22 of the 26 sent his way at the other end of the rink.
Apart from Mahura’s two-goal effort, Steel registered a multipoint night with a goal and an assist.
Now, the two teams head for Seattle where Games 3, 4 and 5 will take place at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash. Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday, May 9.