It might not go down in history as one of the great hockey games of all time, but for Frog Lake, Tuesday night’s victory was incomparable in scope and importance. Down three games to none against the Wainwright Bisons, the T-Birds had to win at home in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. A truly impressive game filled with strong offense and defense, and the ability to adapt, helped the T-Birds on their way to a 7-4 victory.
Tayon Metzler scored the first goal of the game for Frog Lake just over a minute into the night. The goal was Metzler’s fifth of the post-season. Four minutes later, on the power play, Ryder Prue scored his tenth goal of the playoffs to give the T-Birds an early two-goal lead. But if the Bisons have proved anything all season long, it’s that their ability to score goals is unmatched in the league, and no lead is ever safe.
After Draven Waskahat took a charging penalty nearing the halfway point of the first, Wainwright’s special teams got to work fast. The Bisons put themselves on the scoreboard with a power-play goal eight-and-a-half minutes into the frame, and the score would stay steady with a 2-1 lead for Frog Lake until the second period.
Zach MacKay took a hooking minor for the Bisons in the middle period, giving Frog Lake yet another chance to score on the power play. But a miscue from the T-Birds’ offense led to a turnover in their defensive end. Wainwright’s Carson James executed a beautiful dangle past Frog Lake goalie Justin Fedoruk to put a shorthanded goal into the net.
Tied at two goals, the T-Birds’ response was to be the most critical and defining moment of the night. Though Wainwright stayed hot on their heels, Frog Lake came alive under pressure. Ten minutes into the period, Darian Gamble came in hard on the right wing, letting a quick wrist shot go from the bottom of the circle. The shot went top shelf and in on Wainwright’s all-star goalie Austin Prior, who entered the game with a .947 save percentage. Gamble’s goal was his tenth of the post-season, and he would later score his eleventh as well.
Following the Gamble goal, the Bisons answered back to tie the game at three. But just minutes later, Frog Lake’s offense went into overdrive as they scored two goals in 15 seconds. The T-Birds’ fourth goal came courtesy of Curtis Scales (his fifth of the post-season) off of a perfect cross-ice pass from Cody Hodgson, shortly followed by a goal scored on a 1-on-1 by Courage Omeasoo (his ninth of the playoffs). Carson James scored again for the Bisons, bringing the score to 5-4 for Frog Lake at the end of the second period.
Michael Cardinal scored a shorty for the T-Birds to begin the third period, most of which was dominated by Frog Lake. Cardinal’s goal signaled the end of the night for Austin Prior. The Bisons replaced Prior with their backup netminder, Billy Cawthorn. Gamble scored again to put the T-Birds up 7-4, and the cracks began to show in a Wainwright team unaccustomed to losing.
The Bisons’ play got sloppy, and their skaters were tired and agitated. Their only real chance to score game right at the tail end of the game while the T-Birds were serving two penalties. With their goalie pulled and with Frog Lake down two men, the Bisons had all the pieces in place for nearly 90 seconds of 6-on-3 pressure. But even then, they couldn’t get the puck past the red-hot Fedoruk. The game ended thus, with Frog Lake snatching a 7-4 win and taking away the Bisons’ chance to sweep the finals.
“This was essentially a game seven for us,” said Frog Lake coach Harvey Smyl, “and I thought we played excellently. We were strong at both ends of the ice, and our special teams were great as well. I think that any time we were pressured, we didn’t buckle. [Wainwright] is a team that can come at you hard, and when they score one, you can’t get rattled. . . I’m really pleased with my guys. We could have easily just gone through the motions and accepted our fate tonight but we didn’t. We battled and battled, and continued to do all the little things right, for the full sixty minutes. Our turnover ratio was really solid, which was important because [Wainwright] has such a great transition game. And I thought we did a really good job defensively as well, and that’s what we need to do on Friday in game five.”
Stopping the Streak
Frog Lake proved themselves in a big way during game four. Despite the fact that they still have a long road ahead and must win 3 more games in a row if they want to emerge league champions, the T-Birds are the first team to beat the Bisons since the St. Paul Canadiens beat them 3-2 on November 3, 2017. They lost just twice in the regular season and had yet to lose a playoff game this year, but their unbelievable 37-game winning streak was brought to an abrupt halt in Frog Lake. Despite the outcome of the rest of the series, this is a big win for the T-Birds, who are making their first-ever NEAJBHL finals appearance this year.
Game five will be back in Wainwright on Friday, March 26 at 8:00. If the T-Birds manage to stave off elimination yet again, they will return for game six in Frog Lake the very next day.