It’s a tough pill to swallow for this year’s Bonnyville Pontiacs.
On Sunday night, the Pontiacs fell 4-1 in an elimination Game 6 to the hands of the Whitecourt Wolverines, ending their 2021-22 season.
The Yaks extended the series on Friday night with a 5-3 victory featuring five different goal scorers, many of which getting their first career playoff goals, including Alex Power, Ethan Sundar, Alex Atwill, and Chayce Schmidt.
However in Game 6, Schmidt was called on a 50/50 kneeing penalty through the neutral zone, just moments after Matteo Giampa had been nailed in the head. While killing the penalty, the Yaks cleared the zone but into a changing player and were whistled for too many men on the ice.
Giving the Wolverines a full two minute 5-on-3 powerplay, Christiano Aiello was able to score. In a series where there were no lead changes, and whichever team scored first ended up winning, it was the start Whitecourt needed to set into their trap and play their game.
The Wolverines scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of the 2nd period signaling the end of Matt Hennessey’s night. Austin Saint scored the lone Yaks goal late in the frame, but the Pontiacs couldn’t get sustained pressure in the 3rd period.
“We had a hard time getting back. I thought Austin Saint scored a big goal to get us back to 3-1. And I was still confident going into the 3rd period,” said assistant coach Neil Langridge. “There was no thought of loss still and that was just the confidence that this coaching staff had with this group. It just obviously was not meant to be.
“We had how many great opportunities tonight, but Carson Ironside has played one heck of a series and we won’t take any credit away from him. But obviously a massive disappointment for the Bonnyville Pontiacs organization with what we believed that we were the better team. The better team in our mind didn’t get the result they needed and so Whitecourt, you have to give them the kudos for sticking to their gameplan and finishing off the series in six games.”
The Wolverines goaltending was the big reason they’ll move on to the next round. Switching between Will Grimard and Carson Ironside, each goaltender allowed just six goals total in the series, with save percentages over .950.
With the season coming to an end, so too are the junior careers of locals AJ Macaulay and Austin Saint, plus 20-year-olds Kash Rasmussen, Will Hilfiker, Nick Traggio (who was suspended after Game 5 for a check to the head), Michael Fairfax and Alex Danis. Alex Power may go to Quinnipiac as well.
“No matter how many times you go through as a coach, it never gets easier, it gets harder and harder to watch, especially when you have a group like we had with the talent that it’s in the room, the character that’s in the room, to have a first round exit – it’s a gutwrencher not only for myself, the coaching staff, the players, but for the entire Pontiacs organization.”
The Pontiacs earned a record of 36-16-8 during the regular season and their fourth highest points total in franchise history.
Macaulay, Rasmussen, and Trey Funk finish all tied for the team lead in points in the series with five each.
The Wolverines will advance to the Spruce Grove Saints in the second round, while the Fort McMurray Oil Barons will play the Drayton Valley Thunder.
The Pontiacs will announce more information about an awards banquet shortly.