Luckies fans had a lot to celebrate Saturday night.
After three fast-paced periods and a hat trick from Jon Marren, Houston bested the Williams Lake Stampeders 6-3 in the first game of the CIHL playoffs.
Both teams came out fast and edgy in the first, icing the puck several times as they took the measure of what would be a fast-flying game right to the last seconds.
The Luckies’ Justin Meints opened the scoring three minutes in, knocking one through a scramble in front of the Stampeders’ net.
Minutes later, the Luckies defence had to fend off a penalty and a strong Stampeders’ rush—but the defenders dropped and blocked to hold Williams Lake to just three shots on their power play.
The Stampeders were on their heels most of the first, but they Wilf Robbins managed to tie the game at 1-1 with a weak slapshot that jumped off Stampeder Brent McIsaac’s stick.
Facing a tie game, Houston responded with a strong rush and near miss right off the next face-off. They kept the heat up until Jon Marren knocked in another goal from inside the slot.
A beautiful glove save from Luckies’ goaltender Nick West kept the score at 2-1 Luckies at the end of the first period.
Two minutes into the second, Blair Dinelle stretched that lead to 3-1 with a great shot from the top of the circle.
But as the game got fiercer, the Luckies took on a pair of penalties. Stampeder Brent McIsaac capitalized on the five-on-three, making a fast pass across the slot to Francis Johnson, who shot in a textbook goal on West’s far side to make it 3-2.
Minutes later, the Luckies scrambled to clear their zone and let Francis Johnson score another to tie the game 3-3.
Stampeder Nathan Zurak, who led the CIHL in scoring through the regular season, started looking dangerous then.But Zurak’s stickhandling could’t get him past the Luckies defenders and they kept Zurak off the board.
A fourth goal from Luckies winger Blair Dinelle put the team on top again, but the Luckies took no pause. They kept pressing hard in the Stampeders’ end, narrowly missing a one-ma rush out of the penalty box in the last minutes of the second.
Asked what the Luckies’ team strategy would be for period three, team captain Alonzo Slaney gave a quick reply: ”Give ‘er!”
The Luckies started the third true to their word. Halfway into the period Jon Marren score a big goal after a two-man rush.
Broken sticks were flying at that point, and the Luckies had several more scoring chances, including an odd-man rush during a penalty kill that snuck through the Williams Lake defenders.
Despite the two-goal lead, the Luckies kept the heat on until Jon Marren sank an extra insurance goal and a hat trick on the Stampeders’ empty net with 45 seconds left on the clock.
Houston will travel to Williams Lake for the next game in the CIHL’s best-of-eight playoff series.
Team insiders said game two will be a challenge, as the Stampeders typically travel with less than a full bench.
At Saturday’s game, the Stampeders fielded just 11 players. A driver with the team said Saturday’s snowstorm was partly to blame, adding that it took the guys four more hours than planned to drive in.
Unfortunately, he said, every man on the Stampeders’ top line happens to drive a snowplow in winter and they were all out working the storm on Saturday.