Gunnar Neilsen’s Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs debut had it all – a penalty shot, three fights and 11 combined goals.
“It was definitely not what I was expecting,” said Neilsen. “It is nice to get the first game out of the way. I enjoyed it and I look forward to moving forward with these guys.”
Neilsen, an 18-year-old netminder acquired in a trade with Mission City (PJHL) earlier this month, picked up his first AJHL win on Saturday night backstopping the Pontiacs to a 6-5 win over the Camrose Kodiaks.
The contest was his first game in over a month as he filled in to give Bonnyville’s No. 1 keeper Olivier Charest much needed rest.
“I thought he was really good at times. I know there were probably some goals he would like to have back, but it was his first test,” said Bonnyville head coach and GM Rick Swan.
Bonnyville’s offence got Neilsen’s evening off to a great start, striking twice in the games opening 92 seconds.
Bobby McMann’s 26th of the season started the scoring at 1:14 and was followed by a Ryan Piche goal just 18 seconds later.
Piche crashed the Kodiaks net and stuffed a pass from Josh Borynec past Camrose netminder Brodan Salmond while falling to the ice.
Immediately after Bonnyville had opened up a 2-0 lead the Kodiaks started getting physical, initiating scrums with Pontiacs defenders whistle after whistle.
Brinson Pasichnuk wasn’t having any of it, dropping the gloves with Ryan Rebelato at the 11:28 mark.
Just 49 seconds later the Kodiaks were at it again. Forward Tanner Younghans goaded Bonnyville’s Erik Donald into a scrap, eliminating another Pontiacs defender from the game.
With two defenceman kicked out of the contest for fighting forwards Steenn Pasichnuk and Chasetan Braid saw shifts on the back end.
“It just shows the depth of our team that we are able to handle that type of adversity against a good hockey club,” said Swan. “I thought those guys did a good job to alleviate minutes from Gen Bryshun, Bryan Gerstenfeld and Ben Mack.”
PJ Marrocco got Camrose on the board 2:03 into the second period after Neilsen got caught playing the puck behind the Bonnyville net and was unable to get back into his crease in time.
“It is a big adjustment learning new systems, especially this late in the year,” said Neilsen. “A few times tonight there were a couple miscommunications, but for the most part I am starting to figure it out.”
Josh Borynec answered back 10:30 later, sliding a nice pass from Ben Mack past Salmond.
Alden Dupuis added to the Bonnyville lead minutes later cutting across the middle of the zone and firing a spin-around backhand into the top right corner.
Minutes later, after a scramble in front of the Pontiacs goal, a penalty shot was awarded to Camrose after the official saw a Bonnyville player cover the puck in the crease.
Neilsen came up huge going left to right and making a right pad save on Kodiaks forward Ethan James.
Camrose would climb back into the contest notching a goal with 1:13 left in the second and another 8:11 into the third to cut Bonnyville’s lead to 4-3.
Bonnyville’s big guns got them the three goal lead back with Kyler Hehn and Bobby McMann scoring goals 1:57 a part midway through the final period.
Another defensive lapse by the Pontiacs saw their large lead evaporate in a span just 40 seconds.
Cold McBride snuck a shot under Neilsen’s arm at 16:58 and Tyler Morrision tucked the puck past Neilsen’s right pad at 17:38 to bring the score to 6-5.
“We need to fix some things defensively to make sure our mistakes don’t keep games as tight as they are,” said Swan. “There was a lot of character out there shown. They pushed back and we stepped up and pushed back as well.”
Bonnyville held on to capture their 30th victory of the season.
The third place Pontiacs are back in action on Friday night in Spruce Grove.