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Bombers push Hinton to the limit

Barrhead lose in closely contested CAJHL three-game playoff series

BARRHEAD - The Barrhead Bombers gave the Canadian American Junior Hockey League (CAJHL) defending champions everything they could handle, but it wasn't enough.

On March 17, the Hinton Timberwolves defeated the Bombers 4-2 in the third and deciding game at the Barrhead Agrena.

In the first game in Hinton, the Bombers won the first game 7-6 in overtime, coming from behind and overcoming a four-goal deficit.

Barrhead lost 4-3 in the Timberwolves' barn in the second game.

Going into the first-round series, Hinton was the heavy favourite. The Timberwolves took the regular season points championship with 66 points, 32 wins, 11 losses, and two overtime losses, compared to the Bombers' 25 points, 31 wins, and three overtime losses.

In the head-to-head series, Hinton also held a distinct advantage, taking 13 of the 15, with five games with the spread of victory being by three goals or greater, including a 13-4 loss on March 6 and a 9-4 loss on March 10 in their last game of the regular season.

After the final game, head coach Mario Haase said he was not surprised at how well his team performed in the series. He added that going into the series, they believed they had more than a 50/50 chance at knocking off Hinton.

"Right from the start of the season in September, we told the players it was all about the playoffs," Haase said. "We delivered the types of performances you need and expect in the playoffs, as did the Timberwolves. This was a real series; every game was tight with the slimmest of margins. It is a shame that this could not have been decided in a seven-game series."

Haase said that although all the games were significant, the Friday, March 15 game, their first playoff win as a franchise, set up the series.

After the Timberwolves scored two quick goals to start the second period, the Bombers trailed 5-1.

"The team wasn't looking for excuses; they were looking for answers, and we found them," he said. "It always comes down to one moment, shift or instance that makes the difference in the game. Often, it is inconspicuous that changes your fortunes. No one hung their heads. We decided as a group that this wasn't how we would play our playoffs. A 7-6 overtime win in hostile territory was a big marker for us."

Haase said they were able to build on the win and play what might have been their best and perhaps the most complete game of the series.

"It was a close game that could have gone either way," he said. "[We had the lead] and had the opportunity to finish, but we could not take advantage of those opportunities."

Going into the third game, Haase said it was an evenly played game that came down to a few bounces and who could take advantage of them when the opportunity arose.

"We had full expectations that we would win the game, and the chances to do so were there, but unfortunately, we could not capitalize on those moments, and Hinton was," he said.

Although he did not specifically mention any opportunity, in particular, a potential turning point in the game happened in the third period about five minutes into the period, with Hinton leading 2-1, following a Timberwolves' slew-footing major penalty, which would later end up as a two-man advantage for more than a minute that Barrhead could not capitalize on. Shortly after killing the penalties, Hinton scored their third goal on the rush against the game's flow.

Later in the game, Barrhead failed to convert on a penalty shot.

As for what next season holds, Haase said, like most years in junior hockey, the franchise will likely start from scratch.

He added that although only two Bombers will age out of juniors, several Bombers have received offers to play for college and university programs in the U.S.

"So we may have a lot of players moving on, and as a coaching staff, at this level and with this age group, our job is to try to set them up for the next level," Haase said.

He also said there could be a considerable change in the Alberta junior hockey league landscape, suggesting the defection of five Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) teams to the British Columbia Junior Hockey League (BCJHL) could mean the province's premier junior hockey league could look to expand which has the potential to impact the other junior leagues in the province.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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