Netminder backstops Bisons through to division finals
Monday, Mar 13, 2017 06:00 am
The CFR Chemical Bisons is on to the third round of the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League (AMHL) post-season after eliminating the Calgary Flames on March 6.
The Bisons needed four games to knock the Flames out of the AMHL Chrysler Division semifinals but the series was tighter than it appeared, with the Bisons winning a pair in overtime, including the series-ending game.
“It seems like we found that demeanor where we stay calm, go to work and are comfortable (in tight games),” head coach Sandy Henry said.
Despite coming into the series with the regular season edge over the Flames, the Bisons found itself in a battle early in the series, winning the first two games by just a single goal.
The team dropped Game 3 at home to the Flames on March 5, going down 3-0 early in the game and never coming closer than two goals in the 3-1 loss.
The Bisons were able to knock off its opponent the next night, but needed overtime for the second time in three games to finally put an end to the Flames season with a 5-4 victory at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary.
With the Bisons relying on a duo tandem system between the pipes in the regular season, it appeared both would get ample playing time in the post-season, but it has been Cochrane’s Ben Laidlaw earning the lion’s share of starts against the Flames.
The first-year started in each of the Bisons three wins in the Chrysler Division semifinals, winning all three of his starts but not putting up the best numbers in those wins.
“We were one of the better teams in the league but the Flames gave us a good run for our money there,” Laidlaw said. “That brought us back to earth a bit and reminded us that this is playoff hockey.
“There is not going to be any blowouts because every team wants (to win) pretty badly.”
The 17-year-old has given up an uncharacteristically high number of goals in the second round series, allowing 13 goals on 118 shots faced. His .890 save percentage is close to 30 points below his regular season percentage and his goals against average is up from 2.43 in the regular season to 3.42.
Laidlaw said he knew his play was going to have to improve if his team wanted to knock off the Buffaloes in the Chrysler Division finals.
“I don’t know if I’ve been as good as I can be,” Laidlaw said. “But at the same time, when it really comes down to it in the final minutes and the team needs a big save, I’ve been there.
“There are a few technical things I can clean up, but just like every other player on the team, I’m just focused on getting the win. So far we’ve done a good job of that.”
Although the Bisons were successful in knocking off the Flames, Henry said the team still has some work to do in preparation for the division finals. One issue he said the team needed to work on is better starts against its opponent.
In the series with the Flames, the Bisons gave up nine first period goals out of a total of 16 in four playoff games. The Bisons scored just two first period goals in that series.
“We’ve got to get over being slow out of the gate,” Henry said. “We’ve got to cut (first period goals) down, get that down to one or none.
“Then we know we’re playing into our game.”
He also mentioned the team’s total goals against had to come down, especially heading into a series with the high-scoring Buffaloes.
“You don’t want to have a four or five goals against average in the playoffs,” Henry said. “It’s a hard way to win, to expect to score four or five goals every night.”
The Bisons look to be the underdogs going into the finals against the Buffaloes – a team that it lost both its regular season games to in the 2016-17 campaign, including a 5-2 loss on Feb. 1.
The Buffaloes took first place in the Chrysler Division with 54 points, just one point ahead of the Bisons to secure home ice advantage.
The Bisons kick off its third round against the Buffaloes March 10 (after press time).