Mentally, physically, and on the scoreboard- in all three aspects of the game, the Briercrest Clippers were unstoppable as they defeated the SAIT Trojans Saturday afternoon at the Barkman arena.
On the heels of a hard-fought contest that didn't go their way the night before, it took a good measure of resilience to come out just as hard less than 24 hours later- and that's exactly what the home side did. From the drop of the puck, Briercrest imposed their will in the game and reaped an immediate reward as Daine Milgate set up Zach Thususka for an early 1-0 lead.
SAIT tried to respond and created a 2 on 1 break, but Jeridan Loewen made a great defensive play to neutralize the threat.
The Clippers set a tone of physical dominance as a series of clean hits got the visitors running around a little as they looked for revenge. An undisciplined penalty gave Reagan Poncelet and Brandon Kelly the opportunity to set up Cole Stevenson, who made no mistake and doubled Briercrest's lead.
Finding themselves halfway through the period with only two shots, SAIT dialed up some pressure and forced Dominik Tmej to make some great saves. The Trojans continued to press- with mixed results. An attempted hit on Halen Cordoni backfired as a red jersey went tumbling into the corner, but SAIT did manage to halve the lead with a late first-period goal.
Undaunted, Briercrest showed no lapse in effort and remained in high gear as play resumed after the first intermission. Some hard work by Colton Aikens drew an early penalty, and momentum was firmly on the Clipper's side. Jeridan Loewen made a beautiful pass to Reagan Poncelet, who ripped home the rubber to put the home team up 3-1. Tmej made a great blocker save on a shot labelled for the top corner, but SAIT managed to capitalize on a powerplay to pull within one.
The Clippers continued to play exceptional team defense to open the third period as SAIT desperately tried to tie things up. Landon Russell sprawled to block a dangerous pass, and the Clippers continued to hit and check. Curtis Wiebe took one for the team as he blocked a hard shot from the point. The visitors received a number of powerplay opportunities, and although Briercrest's penalty kill was valiant and even generated a solid scoring chance short-handed, the Trojans eventually tied things up at three apiece.
With their lead evaporated and down to 12 skaters on the bench, it might have seemed to the Clippers that SAIT's undefeated streak might continue. But they refused to let that happen- attacking in waves and pressing for one more goal. They found paydirt when Wiebe sent the puck to Caleb Grandfield, who scored on the wraparound to put the Clippers up 4-3. The crowd erupted and serenaded the home team the rest of the way as they finished off the Trojans.
Grandfield commented on his emotions after his game-winning goal: "It felt awesome- our team has faced so much adversity so far this year… to finally get one in front of our home fans- as good of a crowd as it was tonight- it was pretty cool."
It felt like a victory in which the character and skill of the team came together in a tangible way. "I felt like [we] played a really solid game yesterday and I didn't want [us] to get down on ourselves, because I thought the effort was there," said head coach Brad Cole after the game. "We went to war today… it creates a cohesiveness and a unity that you don't get by practicing- that's a huge step for our program."
Players of the game were Dominik Tmej for the Clippers and Braedon Fleming for the Trojans.
With the win, the Clippers vault into 5th place in the standings, passing the Augustana Vikings. They now trail the Red Deer Kings by two points and will have the opportunity to close that gap next weekend at home.