Shootout goals by Derek Brown and Brinson Pasichnuk propelled the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs to a 3-2 victory over the league leading Spruce Grove Saints on Saturday night.
The victory allowed Bonnyville to split their weekend series with two of the AJHL’s top teams, bouncing back after a 3-2 loss to the Lloydminster Bobcats on the night before.
“We have to take every game and treat it like a playoff game. Playoffs start now, especially in the North division,” said Pontiacs head coach and GM Rick Swan. “Teams are going to be extremely tough and we have to be extremely focused and dialed in for sixty minutes.”
Bonnyville came prepared for the opening 20 minutes in Lloydminster, firing shot after shot on Bobcats goaltender Alex Leclerc in an attempt to get on the board.
Pontiacs were crashing the goal, screening the netminder and had a number of great scoring chances but were unable to beat Leclerc.
The opening frame ended deadlocked at 0-0, but the shot clock told a different story as Bonnyville had out shot Lloydminster 18-6.
“We had a good start. We really took it to them early,” said Bobby McMann. “Then they got some lucky bounces and we didn’t get those bounces tonight. I guess that is the way it goes sometimes.”
Unfortunately for the Pontiacs their first period success didn’t translate into the second frame, and it was the Bobcats who struck first.
Just over six minutes into the middle period Kevin Darrar ripped a shot past Olivier Charest to put the home team up 1-0.
Roughly five minutes later, at 11:29, Troy Van Tetering took a nice pass from Morgan Messenger, walked in from the left faceoff circle and wired a wrist shot into the top right corner.
The 2-0 Bobcats lead was cut in half early into the third period.
Pontiacs captain Steen Pasichnuk swatted the rebound of a Ryan Piche shot into a wide open net to get Bonnyville on the board just 1:16 into the third.
The momentum was short lived for Bonnyville as the Bobcats were able to get the goal back at 8:43 with Darrar notching his second of the evening.
Bryan Gerstenfeld would get Bonnyville back within a goal, snapping one past Leclerc at 12:19, but that is as close as the Pontiacs would come.
The 3-2 loss saw the Pontiacs drop to fourth place in the north division standings, sitting just one point back of both Lloydminster and Whitecourt.
“We should have won that game there is no doubt about it,” said defenceman Brinson Pasichnuk. “These are important points. This was a four point game that we should have won.”
On Saturday night Bonnyville was in tough against the defending league champion Spruce Grove Saints.
Pontiacs defenceman Gen Bryshun opened the scoring early at the Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove notching his second of the season 1:38 into the opening period.
The unassisted marker held up until midway through the second period when Saints forward Colton Leiter potted one past Bonnyville netminder Olivier Charest to tie the game.
Deadlocked 1-1 the game entered the third period and got a little feisty as both teams were looking for the edge.
Spruce Grove struck first when Conner Lukan scored on a nice pass from Ian Mitchell to give the Saints their first lead of the hockey game.
About ten minutes later, after some pushing and shoving ensued in front of the Saints penalty, the Pontiacs were awarded their third powerplay of the game.
On the ensuing man advantage, with newly acquired Saints forward Dondre Watson in the box for roughing, Pasichnuk would rifle home his 13th of the year to tie the game 2-2.
“We talked about how it was all going to come down to one-on-one battles and it was going to come down to them versus us,” said Swan. “Certainly our guys took that to heart and they played a really solid third period.”
Just like the last contest between these two squads, overtime solved nothing and the two teams had to decide the game in a shootout.
Charest stopped both shots he faced, and Brown and Pasichnuk beat newly acquired Spruce Grove netminder Ravi Dattani to give the Pontiacs their 28th victory of the season.
The victory pumped the Pontiacs backup into third place after a short stint in fourth in a tight, crowded North division standings.
Bonnyville (28-10-7) has 63 points and sits six points back of Spruce Grove, three points back of Whitecourt and one point ahead of Lloydminster.
The Pontiacs will be back at home this weekend to battle Whitecourt on Friday night and Camrose on Saturday.