Their first round series could have gone the distance, but unfortunately for the Lloydminster Foremost Heat, the division quarter-finals for the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) is only a best of three.
The Heat’s season came to an end on Thursday night in Camrose, as two late third period power play goals couldn’t be answered, allowing the Camrose Red Wings to edge out a 4-2 victory and 2-1 series win.
In Game 1, Lloydminster scored three goals in the third period to tie the game at 4-4, sending it into overtime. Nothing was solved in the first period of extra time, but the Red Wings’ forward Daylan Kuefler scored just 56 seconds into the second overtime to take the early series lead.
Game 2 would continue to show how even the series was, as both teams were held scoreless through the first 40 minutes. Lloydminster, however, would erupt for five goals in the third period, including two from Anson Smith, while goaltender Andrei Proctor-Ramirez made 40 saves for the shutout to send the series back to Camrose for the deciding Game 3.
Camrose got off to an early start, scoring twice in the first period, but the Heat would respond with goals by Jordan Borysiuk and Brady Clayton, tying the game at 2-2 heading into the third period.
But costly penalties led to two power play goals just 46 seconds apart, giving the Red Wings the lead, the eventual victory and the series.
“We are proud of the effort we showed,” said Heat head coach Kirill Chikin. “Great resilience and just the ability to stay in the game, don’t get down, don’t get negative, keep playing, keep pushing.”
The series could have easily gone seven games if allowed to, as the two teams were evenly matched and battled throughout the regular season in the standings in what was a very tight and competitive Charge North Division.
Lloydminster finished just two points back of the Red Wings and the division leaders, the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, in the standings, while they were just three points up on fourth place PAC Saints. The Rangers defeated the Saints in two games in the other divisional matchup, winning 3-0 and 1-0 to set up a Camrose and Fort Saskatchewan Division Final.
It’s one of the tightest races Chikin has ever been involved in and made his team start playing playoff style hockey much earlier in the season. And it also meant that the series would come down to the finer details, as everyone has been gearing up for playoffs since the turn of the new year.
“I’ve never been part of a division where everybody could beat everybody,” said Chikin. “Even the two teams who didn’t make the playoffs, they were beating teams that did make the playoffs. This is what hockey is all about, every team can beat everyone and it comes down to the little details and doing the little things right, sacrificing for the team and putting them first.
“We have been playing this style of hockey since December.”
The Heat finished the season 13-16-7 in 33 games in what was Chikin’s first year with the club as head coach. It was the second year in a row since winning the AMBHL championship in 2013-14 that Lloydminster was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, Lloydminster went 11-15-7 and lost in the first round to Fort Saskatchewan.
With the season now over, the bantam AAA players now turn their attention to the WHL Bantam Draft in May, as some will wait to have their name called by one of the Western Hockey League’s 22 teams.