BONNYVILLE – Although the Bonnyville Sr. Pontiacs playoff run ended over the weekend, the players can hold their heads high.
The Sr. Pontiacs’ playoff dreams were dashed when they fell 6-5 in overtime to the Morinville Kings in game four of the five-game series on Saturday, Feb. 8. The Kings were victorious in three of the matchups, and the local team found success in one.
“We played one heck of a hockey game,” expressed head coach Corey Wandler following their most recent game over the weekend. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted to force game five, but we can… be happy with this series. We were right with those guys right from the start. We showed a lot of character, resilience, and push back from this group.”
Heading into playoffs, the Pontiacs ranked eighth in the North Central Hockey League (NCHL) with four wins, 11 losses, and one overtime loss for a total of nine points overall.
The local Sr. AA team started the series with a win, but the remainder of the games ended in the Kings’ favour.
It was do or die for the Pontiacs when they faced off against Morinville on home ice, and their passion shined through during the game.
Defenceman Steven Konelauch said the team left it all on the ice in what would be their final game of the season.
“We knew what was happening for us if we didn’t play good. We didn’t want to get (a beating) like last time, so we came out here and we battled for three straight periods.”
Forward Lucas Isley kicked scoring off for the home team around the five-minute mark, but the Kings were quick to answer with one of their own.
With back-to-back goals from Pontiacs Justin Dubeau and Tanner Corbeil, Bonnyville ended the first frame with a 3-1 lead.
Although the Pontiacs battled hard during the second, the Kings managed to tie it up at 3-3 with two goals during the period.
Morinville came out of the locker room hot in the final frame, taking the lead with two more goals.
Isley kept Bonnyville alive when he snuck the puck past the Kings’ goalie, but it seemed like Morinville was going to take the win.
Fans held their breath as the seconds ticked down, and the Pontiacs fought to force the game into overtime.
Pulling their goalie, Eric Szurdor, late in the third turned out to be exactly what the home team needed. Pontiac Denis Cadrin got the goal with 11 seconds left on the clock.
Unfortunately for Bonnyville, Morinville finished their playoff-run less than a minute into overtime and took game four 6-5.
“It was such an entertaining and high-energy game from start to finish. This game was one for the ages,” Wandler expressed. “It didn’t end in a win for us, but we did everything we could. We’ve got to hold our heads up, because we gave one heck of an effort.”
Although they struggled a bit this season, Wandler believes the players gave it their all each and every game.
“We had a lot of rookies on this team. We battled some adversity in November and December, but we found a way to collect ourselves and regroup after the Christmas break. We played some good hockey in January and February,” he detailed. “We came to the rink prepared, knowing that every night was going to be tough for us, but the guys found a way back into playoffs when we were five points out. The character, resilience and good leadership from this group showed in those stretches, and we came to the playoff series as underdogs with nothing to prove, and we gave it everything we had.”
With his first season as a Pontiac behind him, Konelauch was glad to have been part of the team this year.
“We all care about each other, we tried our hardest, and we’re all going to come back and work harder,” he exclaimed.
Wandler thanked the players for an unforgettable season.
“They never quit. They wanted to win… and I really like this group because it didn’t matter who was getting the recognition. It was going out there playing the big minute or getting the goal, it was just a team, that’s what I liked about it. We had guys that wanted to be team members first, and the locker room was awesome this year. We had a good leadership core, a lot of young guys, and just a good group. They played hard every night they came to the rink, and that’s all you can ask for.”