The Frog Lake T-Birds were a truly impressive team last year. They shocked everyone by strongarming their way to the playoff finals; a first for the team. They fell to the Wainwright Bisons in five games in that series but put forth a strong showing, being the only team to beat the Bisons in a five-month span.
The T-Birds returned to the ice to open the season at home on Friday night to host the Vermilion Tigers. Harvey Smyl and John Quinney are back behind the bench; the same coaching crew took the T-Birds to the finals earlier in the year. But several key players from last year’s team aren’t returning, including veteran captain Joshua Swampy and leading goal-scorers Michael Cardinal and Courage Omeasoo. Their absence was noticeable this weekend as the T-Birds started strong but gave up an early lead, losing the first game of the season 2-1.
Frog Lake dominated the first third of the game. Three minutes in, Darian Gamble scored on a pass from Brennan Grocock to take an early 1-0 lead. Gamble and Grocock will both be looking to step up in important leadership and goal-scoring positions this year. Each of them had 19 points during the 2017-2018 regular season. Meanwhile, Grocock had 15 points in the playoffs while Gamble had 17.
A minute later, Frog Lake had a chance to double their lead. They put the puck in the net, but referees waved the goal off, citing the net was off its moorings. The disallowed goal seemed to take the air out of Frog Lake’s sails, and they got a bit sloppy. Vermilion took off on a breakaway at the halfway point of the period, but strong defence on Frog Lake’s part put an end to Vermilion’s first real chance to score.
The T-Birds ended the period with another fantastic chance to score on the power play. But a shot from the point hit the crossbar and bounced out. The first period with the T-Birds narrowly maintaining a 1-0 lead.
Vermilion scored as quickly in the second period as Frog Lake did in the first. Tying the game at 1-1 gave the Tigers new momentum and the T-Birds struggled to cope. They got themselves into penalty trouble midway through the period, a trend that lasted until the end of the game.
Frog Lake took three consecutive minor penalties in the second period, giving Vermilion ample chance to score. They finally did, in the final two minutes of the period, as Draven Waskahat served a two-minute minor for roughing. The goal gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead; a lead that would last the night.
Penalties plagued the T-Birds during the final frame. Offensive attempts were limited due to the commission of four back-to-back minor penalties in the middle of the period. To their credit, Frog Lake’s penalty-killing squad played excellently. Their efforts, combined with solid goaltending from Justin Fedoruk, kept the Tigers from increasing their lead.
The T-Birds found a surge of energy in the final minutes of the game, as they often do. With Fedoruk pulled for an extra attacker, they applied plenty of offensive pressure on the Tigers but weren’t able to score the all-important equalizer, ending the game at 2-1.
“We played pretty well in the first period, but after that, our execution was poor,” Smyl said. “We didn’t have the same energy in the second and third, and certainly the penalties took away from any kind of momentum that we had built up. It ruined the flow.” Smyl was also quick to credit Vermilion for taking control of the game and fighting back from behind, saying that “Vermilion is a good team, and they were committed to getting that greasy road win; first of the season. So good on them.”
The T-Birds hit the road this weekend for a game against Killam, which promises plenty of excitement considering the history between the two teams. They will return home to host the Lloydminster Bandits on October 12.