Mike Still, Bison Sports
WINNIPEG - Special teams was the story on Friday night, as the Manitoba Bisons defeated the No. 2-ranked Alberta Golden Bears 3-2 at Wayne Fleming Arena.
The two teams combined for ten penalties and three power play goals on the night in what was a tremendous back-and-forth contest.
The Golden Bears generated a frenetic pace early on that resulted in two power play goals within the first 10 minutes of play. It was also Alberta's first two goals with the man advantage on the season.
The first came just 1:24 into the contest, as forward Cole Sanford made no mistake on a wrist shot from the top of the slot. He would add his second with the extra attacker at 9:28, putting away a loose puck in front of Bisons goaltender Byron Spriggs.
"Alberta got off to a great start," said Bisons head coach Mike Sirant post game. "We were turning pucks over and then that led to penalties and our penalty killing wasn't the way it should be at the beginning of the game, but give Alberta credit, they've got an outstanding power play."
Down by two, the Bisons began to demonstrate their team speed, creating a few quality chances on odd-man rushes.
Their best opportunity to crack the score board in the first came with four minutes to play, as rookie centre-man Devon Skoleski — who had two goals last weekend against Calgary — got behind the defence for a partial break away, but was turned away by Alberta net minder Zach Sawchenko.
Manitoba mimicked the Golden Bears production on special teams in the middle frame, with a power play goal less than five minutes in.
It was Skoleski who got Manitoba on the board, netting his third of the year on an odd-angle rebound at 4:52.
"After the first period we cleaned up our penalty kill and I thought our power play looked good also, we got a big goal to get us back into the game," said Sirant.
The Bisons would continue to generate momentum with their speed, evening the score at two less than eight minutes in on a top-shelf shot from captain Brett Stovin, his team-leading fourth goal of the year. The goal was set up by a solid lead pass from forward Liam Bilton.
The home side had two other special teams chances in the second period, however Sawchenko was able to keep the score even with multiple big-time saves.
Alberta's best chance to re-take the lead came with six-and-a-half minutes to play, as forward Grayson Pawlenchuk broke into the Bisons zone and went forehand-to-backhand but was stymied by Spriggs.
The home side had an excellent chance to take their first lead of the game in the opening three minutes of the third period, as the Golden Bears took two penalties within 30 seconds of each other.
Alberta shut down the Bisons during the five-on-three advantage however, doing a tremendous job of blocking Manitoba's passing lanes.
The Golden Bears went back to the power play at 5:37, however this time it was Manitoba's penalty kill that stepped up to keep the score level.
The Bisons would score the game-winning goal at 9:32 as forward Nick Zajac finished off an odd-man rush on a great feed from Brett Brooks.
Alberta would press for the equalizer but were unable to solve Spriggs, who finished with over 30 saves. Their best chance of the period came with 4:42 to go, but forward Luke Philp was unable to find his line mate on a two-on-one chance.
"Byron Springs was outstanding for us to help seal that win," said Sirant.
The two teams will go at it again tomorrow night at 7 p.m., looking to finish the weekend series off on a high note.