BROOKS, AB – A packed Centennial Regional Arena erupted Friday night as Josh McKechney (Calgary, AB) deflected in the winning goal 7:16 into overtime, giving the Brooks Bandits a dramatic 3-2 win over the Okotoks Oilers in Game 5 of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) South Final, as Brooks clinched the series 4 games to 1.
The win gives the Bandits their fifth division championship in the last six seasons, and their sixth South title overall.
A scoreless first period saw Brooks narrowly outshoot Okotoks 12-10, with a near-goal by the Oilers when Trey Degraaf backhanded a shot off goalie Mitch Benson (Windsor, ON), then tap the puck out of mid air over the goalie and onto his back. But Benson somehow pinned the puck between his back and the post, getting a whistle and keeping the game scoreless despite Okotoks’ claims to have scored.
In the second period, the Bandits opened the scoring at the 9:11 mark when Ty Mappin (Big Valley, AB) collected a close range pass from captain Nick Prkusic (Medicine Hat, AB) and flicked a puck past goalie Riley Morris from the top of the crease. But the Oilers tied it just over 2 minutes later when Tanner Laderoute sniped a wrister from the left circle on a clear cut 2-on-1 rush.
After Okotoks was denied a Degraaf power play goal due to the puck being kicked in, they made good on their late power play with a left circle blast by Carson Beers that beat Benson with 6 seconds left in the 2nd period, making it 2-1 Oilers.
But the Bandits dominated the third, tripling the Oilers in shots 9-3 and tying the game at the 15:52 mark when Cale Makar (Calgary, AB) fired a top shelf shot in from the high slot, sending the game to overtime.
With a 10-2 Bandit shot lead and the Oilers taking an early timeout to stem the home side’s momentum, the Bandits finally capitalized after a near-goal by McKechney. Oliver Chau (Oakville, ON) centered the puck from behind the net to McKechney at the left side of the net, but his point blank shot went off Morris and away to the right corner. But McKechney was pushed into the crease by an Oiler defender and collided with Morris, with both players falling. McKechney got back up, and from his knees at the side of the crease managed to deflect in a pass from Chau in the corner to give the Bandits the win and send the team streaming off the bench.
The game was played in front of an announced crowd of 2,054, the largest crowd for the Bandits since Game 6 of the 2015 South Final against Camrose.
With the North final yet to be decided, the Bandits await their league final opponent but know it will be one of Whitecourt or Fort McMurray, with the first two games in Brooks projected for Friday, April 14th and Saturday, April 15th.
By Tyler King