The season is over for the St. Albert Steel after their playoff series with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons ended with a controversial overtime goal.
Brooks Robinson was credited with the winner on the bing-bang play around Steel goalie Sean Reilly as the puck went in off the Oil Baron storming the net.
“They got a lucky bounce in overtime,” captain Ryan Edens said while shaking his head in disbelief after the 4-3 loss at Performance Arena. “The ref [Colin Watt] said he saw it go off a body. I thought it was the middle of the body, right where his hands were.”
Reilly got a piece of the puck that was fired from the right faceoff area but watched the rebound deflect in off the Oil Baron jamming the crease.
“They threw it out at my chest and it hit my shoulder and it went out in front. Their guy was coming hard to the net and I watched him use his hand and put it in the net,” said Reilly, a junior B affiliate with the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks who stopped 31 shots in the must-win match.
The goal at 6:27 in sudden death completed a three-game sweep by the Oil Barons after beating the Steel 5-0 and 3-2 in Fort McMurray last weekend to start the best-of-five north division opening round in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“It sucks that we had to let it come down to game three down 2-0 in the series,” Edens said. “In Fort Mac we didn’t do what we wanted to do but here at home we did. We banged bodies, got the pucks deep and we gave ourselves chances to score.”
A few minutes before the Oil Barons sealed the deal in OT, the Steel were awarded a penalty shot but Justin Morello fired the puck into the right pad of Jesse Kallechy.
The Oil Barons’ goalie kept the Steel off the scoreboard after Reed Linaker finished off a slick play orchestrated by linemates Alex Perkins and Bryce Williamson to make it 3-1 at 12:50 of period two.
With 2:07 left in regulation time and the game knotted at three apiece, Colton Yaremovich was penalized for holding but the Steel failed to cash in on the power play.
“They’re a good team and they’ve got a good little goaltender,” Edens said. “It’s just too bad we couldn’t capitalize on the power play for a couple more.”
Special teams were not so special in game one. The Oil Barons struck twice on the power play in the first as the rambunctious Baxter Niziol was penalized by referee Tom Trottier for boarding at 1:56 and checking from behind at 10:22. Their fifth goal was scored shorthanded.
Shots were 45-33 for the Oil Barons, including a 23-8 margin in the third. They went two-for-seven on the power play while the Steel was scoreless on five man advantages. Chad Ketting went the distance in net.
“It wasn’t a 5-0 game to be totally honest. We didn’t get good goaltending or refereeing. They had a couple of power plays they shouldn’t have had and they had a couple of goals that were weak. The score never reflected our effort,” Edens said.
In game two Bryce Williamson tied it at one in the first and Taylor Fraser evened the count at two at 9:02 in the third. With Ryan Wilkinson off for tripping, the Oil Barons regained the lead at 11:13 as Branden Gracel registered the team’s third power play goal of the night.
In the last minute of play the Steel were not thrilled with the officials over calls that didn’t go their way. What looked to be a gloved puck in the crease by forward Ben Lake as time expired left the Steel in a foul mood.
“Some of our fans sitting real close said it was definitely in the crease with a glove on the puck and it should’ve been a penalty shot,” Edens said. “There was a real controversial icing about 10 seconds before that too.”
Reilly, 18, was between the pipes in game two and stopped 33 shots while Kallechy was tested 27 times.
“I was seeing the puck a lot more than I did tonight,” Reilly said. “They really utilize that screen in front. Every goal it’s usually when they throw it out from the point and they have a bunch of guys and they either tip it in or you can’t see a thing.”
Reilly joined the Steel as an emergency replacement for Chris Sharkey after the backup had his appendix removed in early February. His first AJHL start was an impressive 40-save performance Feb. 19, a 6-3 win over the visiting Oil Barons in the second-last game of the regular season,
“Having played them before helped a lot, knowing what’s ahead and what kind of shooters you’re facing,” Reilly said. “I wasn’t surprised but I was excited to get the [playoff]start. I know my abilities and how good I can be but it’s good that the coaches have that trust in me as well. I think they saw a lot out of me from that one game.”
Reilly was recommend to the Steel by his junior B coach, Shawn Martin, who hooked up with the AJHL team before Christmas as an assistant coach. He showed enough in his short stint with the Steel to warrant a training camp invite in the fall.
“I felt good. I was confident out there,” said Reilly, a former prospect with the Drayton Valley Thunder who played midget AAA with his hometown Fort Saskatchewan Rangers. “I knew I could get us a win but unfortunately the outcome wasn’t as good as what we expected.”
Edens opened the scoring in game three with the third AJHL goal of his career.
Before the period ended, the Oil Barons replied with a power play tally with Niziol in the box for boarding.
In the middle frame Spencer Pommells put the Steel up 2-1 on the power play with a quick release from the slot. Kallechy got a piece of the puck with his glove but not enough to stop it from going into the net.
Down by two the Oil Barons started their comeback with Gracel’s goal at 14:12 of the second on a delayed penalty call.
With 4:58 left in regulation time, Nolan Rossiter converted Gracel’s rebound for the tying marker. Gracel, a nominee for the AJHL’s MVP award, was allowed to walk in on Reilly from the blue line as the Steel struggled to get the puck out. Their defensive zone coverage was in disarray while Edens scurried to the bench after his helmet was knocked off in a collision along the boards. Without any defensive support, Reilly stopped the first shot but not the rebound.
In overtime the shots were 6-2 for the ramped-up Oil Barons.
“We played a strong game. It just didn’t work out at the end,” said Edens, 20, a third-year Steel defenceman.
The loss marked the last AJHL game for Edens, defenceman Nolan Smith and forwards David Carr, Perkins and Williamson.
“It’s very emotional. I’m going to miss all the boys and the organization. It’s a great place to play. It just really sucks for it to be over all ready,” said Edens, the Steel’s franchise penalty minute king (739 in 175 games) who will move on to play NCAA division three hockey with the Fredonia State University Blue Devils in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
ICE CHIPS: The loss was the Steel’s eighth in nine games against the Oil Barons. They were outscored 35-14 by the Oil Barons while going 1-5 in the regular season.
For the third year in a row the Steel didn’t have home ice advantage in the first round. They lost the 2008 series in the deciding game in double OT against the Grande Prairie Storm and last year were eliminated in four games by the Sherwood Park Crusaders.