The game between the first place Steinbach Pistons and second place Winkler Flyers on Monday afternoon was everything the fans hoped for, and when the dust settled, it was Steinbach claiming a 4-2 victory to clinch 1st place in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The Pistons were wrapping up 3 games in a 4-night stretch while the Flyers were coming off an extended break, not having played since Valentine’s day. Both teams were a little slow out of the gate, but it didn’t last as both teams showed off their speed and generated lots of chances, leaving a packed house at the T.G. Smith Centre right on the edge of their seat.
Back and forth they went until late in the period when Mack Graham ripped home a shot high glove to give his team a 1-0 lead. For Graham, it was his team-leading 32nd goal of the year. Bradley Schoonbaert and Tyler Anderson collected the assists on the only goal of the opening period.
In the second, Pistons got into penalty trouble, and it gave Winkler the opportunity they needed to tie the game. The Pistons answered back as Carter Chorney tipped home a Darby Gula pass for his 4th of the season and the 19 year-old from Rainy River, Ontario his first since returning from injury.
After two periods, it was 2-1 in favour of the hometown Pistons.
The Flyers stormed back and knotted the game at two less than four minutes into the final period. The Pistons were given a power play, and they eventually capitalised.
After a mad scramble in front, where it seemed all five Pistons players had glorious opportunities to score, including hitting at least two posts, Darby Gula finally found the back of the net and brought the crowd to its feet.
“It felt great,” Gula said after the game. “I was coming up on 20 games (without a goal) and to get it in that spot, in this game, it was great.” Gula, who was named the games first star, now has 6 goals, matching his goal output from last year but set a new career high with 31 points.
The game held a bit more drama as a late breakaway by Winkler was turned away by Roman Bengert, who again proved why he is one of the best goalies in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Tyler Anderson put the game away with an empty-netter for his 11th of the year. The goal was unassisted.
Bengert finished the night with 30 saves. The power play was 1-3 while the penalty kill was 4-5.
The victory over the Flyers now as the Pistons at 91 points, with no team able to catch them. Steinbach tied the franchise mark in wins with 45, with six games still remaining.
“It’s great to have games in front of our fans.” Assistant coach Joey Moggach said after the game. “The fans here are unreal and to be able to have home ice all the way through, will give us an extra boost.”
Steinbach has one more road trip coming up starting Friday and Saturday night against the Dauphin Kings and Sunday in Waywayseecappo against the Wolverines. All three games will be broadcast on Mix 96 and SteinbachOnline.com with the Dauphin games slated for a 7:00 pm puck drop on both nights, while the matchup against the Wolverines is set for 7:30 pm.