The Pats set a goal Sunday night, and they weren’t about to let a three-goal deficit get in the way of achieving it.
They defeated the Hurricanes 7-4 in the eastern conference finals and earned their ticket to the WHL finals for the first time since 1984.
“I don’t know that words describe it quite at this time but obviously they dug down and did the job,” said head coach John Paddock of his team’s effort after the game.
“I think 5 on 5 we carried the play all night. You don’t always get rewarded for it, especially with a goaltender like Skinner, but we ended up getting rewarded for it.”
The fact is, it didn’t look so good for the Pats at the start of game six. Less than two minutes into the first period Egor Babenko scored the Hurricanes first goal of the game. Then, over the course of the next six minutes, the Pats took two penalties and Lethbridge scored two more powerplay goals. All of this put the Pats down 3-0 just eight minutes in the third, but they didn’t panic.
“We knew we had lots of time left in the game, we knew we had lots of time to turn it around,” said defenceman Josh Mahura of the Hurricanes red hot start.
Just 24 seconds after the Canes last goal Braydon Buziak buried one past Hurricanes goaltender Stuart Skinner, and less than two minutes after that Mahura sent one flying towards the net, which ricocheted off a Lethbridge player and into the net.
The Pats ended up down by just one goal headed into the second period, but also at a one-man disadvantage because Robbie Holmes took a tripping penalty right at the end of the first.
Like they had in the first period, Lethbridge, who went three for three on the powerplay Sunday night, used their man advantage to give themselves a two-goal cushion just a minute into the period.
But after that, the game was really all Pats.
Late in the second Filip Ahl worked his way past Skinner to score a powerplay goal of his own, and less than two minutes later Henry got on the board for his first of the series to leave the game tied up at four with one period remaining.
The go-ahead goal came from forward Jeff de Wit who was obtained by the Pats at the trade deadline. de Wit stepped up this series moving from his original line when Austin Wagner was injured and he made an impact, though perhaps none bigger than the one he made Sunday night.
“Definitely number one,” he said about where that goal ranked in his career.
“I’ve been out there more and more each game in the series,” he continued. “I think I’ve been more involved in the games and getting my head more in it and I’ve wanted to step up big time each game.”
The next Pat to step up was Wagner himself, who scored the Pats’ sixth goal of the night a minute later, effectively sealing the win for Regina.
That’s not to say there weren’t some tense moments in the end, though. Connor Hobbs was tagged for a delay of game penalty that allowed the Hurricanes 20-year-old captain Tyler Wong to take a penalty shot.
However in the process of making the save against Wong, Pats goalie Tyler Brown knocked the net off kilter and Wong was given the opportunity to shoot again, but he wasn’t successful.
As the clock ticked down on the game the Pats managed one more goal for good measure – an empty netter by Wyatt Sloboshan.
The final score was 7-4.
Mahura said the whole game was a testament to the team’s perseverance.
“We just didn’t give up. We knew we had a goal and we knew we wanted to reach it at the end of tonight. (It was) good by our guys just to keep it going and not looking back.”
The Pats will get a little bit of time to celebrate on the bus home from Lethbridge Sunday night, but already they’re beginning to think about the league finals.
Their opponents, the Seattle Thunderbirds, finished up their series Sunday night as well with a 3-1 win against Kelowna.
Games between the Pats and the Thunderbirds start Friday in Regina. Tickets for games one and two go on sale Monday at noon.
— with files from Patrick Burles, Lethbridge News Now