This was the game that showed the Terrace River Kings is a much improved hockey team over recent versions, but also demonstrated again that they are not quite there yet as the Ice Demons pulled off a thrilling 3-2 come from behind win, minus two starting defensemen.
Although referee Chris Daniels let a lot of the behind-the-play stuff go, the Ice Demons wound up taking one more minor penalty than Terrace as the second and third periods degenerated into the now-usual Demons-Kings hack and scrum fest.
But every player recognized the need for discipline and not losing critical players to fighting penalties.
As it was in the close game won 2-1 by the Demons a week earlier, the Demons’ veteran experience showed through and made the difference.
With Demons trailing 2-1, with 8.36 left in the third period, Jeff Mildenberger, who had a very good game in the short-handed conditions, retrieved a fumbled puck in the Terrace zone and made a slick inside move on the defense and sailed a nice goal behind Patrick Leal, to tie the game at 2-2. The goal was unassisted.
Just 18 second later there was a giant line-scrum in front of and behind Brandon Highton, in the Kitimat net, as the Kings tried furiously to regain the lead.
This led to packed penalty boxes, with Demons’ Justin Bogaert giving the Kings the power play on a doubtful boarding call.
Craig Hewitson and Wade Masch were consigned to the box with him on roughing calls, with the same penalties applied to to Skylar Andrews and Calen Findlay.
From the outset, this one seemed bound to go down to the wire.
The Ice Demons led by a goal from 9.40 mark of the first period, when Dave Venman (Daniel Mayer) got credit for a deflected goal that handcuffed Patrick Leal in the Kings’ net.
That held up till the 10.55 mark of the second when Nathan Soucie (Tristan Murray, Joey Findlay) scored the tying goal with a hard shot that perhaps Kitimat goaltender Brandon Highton might have liked a second look at, as it glanced up off his pad into the roof of the net.
With 11.58 left in the third period the Terrace fans went wild when Calen Findlay saw the go-ahead goal slide through Highton, even after he got his glove on it. Assists went to to Derek Jurista and Toby Mitchell.
Terrace was pushed very hard to hold on to the lead but the big scrum shortly after Mildenberger’s unassisted tying goal seemed to again energize the Demons, who were by this time missing David Venman and Robbie Lafferty on defence.
Wade Masch dropped back and partnered rookie Wade Nicholson.
Mildenberger, Jeff Baker and Justin Bogaert picked up a lot of extra minutes.
Terrace tried their best to use the resulting power play to regain the lead, but the rejuvenated Ice Demons seemed to have every answer – and it had to be frustrating for Terrace forwards, blocked at every turn.
And all the more so in the second last minute, when Highton made a terrific save, lying on his back and veteran Blaine Markwart lofted the clearance high to Craig Hewitson, behind the defense.
Hewitson went in alone on the breakaway and deked Leal while taking a two hander slash across the upper arm from the chasing defenseman, to score the go-ahead goal with 1.13 still on the clock.
After a time out by Terrace, Leal got pulled for an extra attacker, but Toby Mitchell tripped Kyle Boudreault at the Kitimat blue line when he was looking at an empty netter and Leal had to go back into the nets, with Mitchell serving two minutes with just 52 seconds left.
Demons chipped the puck up ice and prevented Terrace from getting the goaltender back to the bench.