By Ryan McCracken on February 11, 2019.
The Strathmore Wheatland Kings defied the odds to steal home ice from the Medicine Hat Travelodge Cubs in the opening round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League post-season.
The Wheatland Kings (18-17-3) rallied for three straight wins down the stretch to clinch fourth in the Southern Division, while Medicine Hat (17-17-4) was swept in a home-and-home set with the Cochrane Generals over the weekend — extending their losing streak to four games entering the playoffs.
The Cubs fell 4-2 to Generals in Cochrane then dropped Sunday’s regular season finale 4-3 in overtime at the Kinplex. Had Medicine Hat managed to squeak out a victory in the span, they would have clinched home ice through a goal differential tiebreaker. Instead, they’ll kick-off their best-of-three series with the Wheatland Kings in enemy territory on Tuesday night.
“It doesn’t seem like we’ve been getting the breaks down the stretch, but we’re a confident bunch going into the playoffs,” said Cubs head coach JD Gaetan. “They have Olympic-sized ice in Strathmore, so there’s lots of room out there. I think with our speed it caters to us a little bit. I think we’re a better-skating team than Strathmore so it plays into our favour a bit. At the end of the day we don’t mind going into that building and we’re confident we can win there.”
The Cubs and Wheatland Kings split their season series 2-2-0 and even matched each other’s scoring pace with 14 goals apiece in the four games. Strathmore picked up their wins in late October, while Medicine Hat swept a home-and-home set in late January.
“I think we had a pretty good chance,” said Chandler Aleman, who led the Cubs with 28 goals and 48 points in 38 games this season. “We beat them a couple times in the regular season so I think we’ve got this in the bag in the first round.”
Generals forward Jaeden Dowling kicked off Sunday’s scoring just over four minutes into the first period.
Tristan Stensrud answered back for Medicine Hat early in the second, but the Generals responded in kind a few minutes later on a goal from Harry Osler.
The back and forth trend continued when Taylor Girard pushed Cochrane back out in front with four minutes left in regulation then Aleman forced overtime with the net empty and time ticking down on the season, but Girard struck again in overtime to spoil Medicine Hat’s celebration.
“We outshot them and outplayed them, I thought, for most of the game,” said Gaetan. “It’s nice to see them playing hard going into the playoffs. It was a tough one today, but there are lots of positives to take going into next week.”
Cochrane’s Takuro Okada and Brandon Aab scored in succession to open Saturday’s contest. While the Cubs pushed back on goals from Logan Robertson and Teagan Berko to tie the game in the second period, Chris Sambrook and Scott Shugg took the lead back after 40 minutes and Generals goaltender Robert Michetti locked up the 19-save victory.
Brett Vanderveer stopped 38 shots in the loss.
“We played hard and tough in both games,” said Aleman. “I guess they just had more bounces go their way.”
The victories leave Cochrane third to close out the regular season with a 27-9-2 record. They’ll open the first round at home against the High River Flyers (12-21-5) while the Coaldale Copperheads (29-7-2) and Okotoks Bisons (27-7-4) earned first-round byes.
The Cubs return to the Kinplex for Game 2 Thursday, while Game 3 is set for Saturday in Strathmore, if necessary.
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