Sherwood Park, AB: The puck was dropped on the Sherwood Park Crusaders cohort's final weekend set with the Bonnyville Pontiacs on Friday night. It was the first of three games between the clubs during the Easter long weekend. The goaltenders were a familiar sight, with Carson Cherepak starting for the fifth time in the series and Easton Hesse making his third start for the Pontiacs.
The first period set the tone for the rest of the game, as both teams came out of the gate skating hard and checking harder. The game's first chance belonged to the Crusaders when Nolan Wutzke got in on a partial break. He couldn't get much of a shot on goal but drew a penalty against Zack Whittaker just two and a half minutes into the period. The power play couldn't get much going for the majority of the advantage, but Loeden Schaufler found Kevin Minnoch at the top of the left circle, and he made no mistake, beating Hesse over the shoulder for his first career AJHL goal. Bonnyville didn't take long to respond, as Jaden York beat Cherepak under the blocker to tie the game at one. The physicality ramped up once again in the first, reaching the breaking point with under four to go. Ashton McNelly and Wyatt Cook were shown the gate for fighting, with Cook picking up an extra two minutes for roughing. Sherwood Park couldn't do anything with the power play, and the period ended with the score sitting at one apiece. Sherwood Park led on the shot clock 10-7.
The second period played out much like the first did, with a lot of tight-checking, physical hockey, particularly from Bonnyville. The Pontiacs seemed to be controlling the momentum in the middle frame, but that didn't stop Sherwood Park from taking the lead. Zafir Rawji, playing in his 100th junior game, tipped home a Loeden Schaufler shot to give his side a 2-1 lead. Bonnyville bounced back immediately, though, when Cherepak stopped Bruce MacGregor's shot, but the rebound was potted by Sebastian Tamburro just 14 seconds after Rawji's goal. Despite chances for both sides late in the period, the teams went to break tied at two. Shots were 11-7 in favour of the Pontiacs.
Bonnyville came flying out of the gates in the third period, playing like a team looking to avoid dropping a fifth straight game. However, in the early parts of the period, Cherepak was equal to everything thrown his way by the Pontiacs. Once again, the Crusaders bent but didn't break, allowing Ty Mueller to score a power-play goal with just over 10 minutes to play, beating Hesse on a similar chance to the game last Sunday. Bonnyville hung around once again, and Ethan Sundar was rewarded, beating Cherepak from the slot with seven minutes left in the period. Despite the numerous chances of the Pontiacs, no more goals would be scored in the third, as the teams headed to Overtime for the first time in the cohort. Shots favoured Bonnyville, 8-6 in the third.
Overtime saw an abundance of chances for both teams, as the extra room led to a fast transition style of play. Both goalies looked sharp on the early chances, as both teams tried to avoid the costly mistake. After a Cherepak save on a good shot from the Pontiacs, Vincent Scott picked the puck up along the wall in his zone and put on the afterburners. Scott made a nice move at the blue line to get around Sundar and roofed the game-winning goal over Hesse's left shoulder. Sherwood Park takes it, 4-3 in Overtime. Shots once again were 8-6 for the Pontiacs.
The two teams will play Saturday night in Bonnyville before returning to Sherwood Park for Sunday night. Both games start at 7 p.m.
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