Graduating athletes shine as Briercrest narrowly shaded by Augustana
Briercrest took on the Augustana Vikings Friday night for the first of a two game weekend series. Fresh off a successful road weekend against the Portage Voyageurs in which they had a win and a tie, Briercrest is playing some of their best hockey of the season as they face off against a Viking team that sits second in the league and has not lost a game in almost three months.
A larger-than-average crowd was on hand, creating some great energy as the puck dropped. Augustana moved quickly to silence Barkman Arena early on as they scored twice on Briercrest miscues to open a 2-0 lead. Alex Bechtold drew a penalty to give the home team a chance to respond, but the guests were able to kill it off and add a third marker at 10:07. Rather than pack it in after getting in a 3-0 hole to a top-tier team, Briercrest redoubled their efforts and looked determined to give the crowd something to celebrate. Devon Rymarchuk, playing his first game for Briercrest, took the puck into the offensive zone and used his size to keep away a defender. This drew in a second Viking, who took a penalty to negate the threat. On the ensuing powerplay, Taylor Epp converted some hard work by linemates Josh Peters and Jacob Baribeau to get Briercrest on the board and reignite the crowd. With the goal, Epp passes Nigel Mullan and Craig Cornelson for fourth place all-time in Briercrest scoring.
The echoes from that celebration hadn't yet faded when Peters and Baribeau combined to set up Josh Dufresne, who snapped the puck over the glove of the ACAC's top goaltender, Harry Fredeman, to close the gap to one. Some good hustle by Bechtold rushing out of the penalty box created a chance for Peters to equalize, but Fredeman made the save and preserved their 3-2 lead going into the first intermission.
Second period action was free-flowing with both teams trading chances. Briercrest had a big penalty kill midway through, and Josh Anderson and Alex Bechtold were strong on the puck as they repeatedly cleared their zone. Peters then drew a penalty as he drove to the net, and BJ Pirus rifled home a powerplay goal to the delight of the fans and frustration of the guests. Moments later, Micah Abbott played goaltender as he kicked aside a point-blank shot after Christian Mueller had dived out of the crease to clear the puck. The teams were deadlocked at 3-3 after forty minutes.
The visitors had the start they wanted with a go-ahead goal five minutes into the third. Once again, the home team upped their intensity in response. Augustana is usually a disciplined team, having the least penalty minutes in the league, but their composure was fraying in the face of Briercrest's determination. They took several needless penalties, and it proved costly. Josh Anderson tipped home a hard shot by Mark MacKinnon to tie the game at four, and the crowd was in a frenzy. Briercrest kept attacking and defending heroically against the Vikings. Josiah Friesen put a dangerous shot on net, and Mark Langford snuffed out an Augustana rush. The clock ticked down and it seemed that overtime was imminent, but the guests were able to get two late goals to ruin the happy ending and take the contest 6-4.
Briercrest has much to be proud of in looking back on this effort. They were unswayed by being down against a very good team, and their intensity found just the right balance of physical assertiveness and composure. Their powerplay clicked well, and their penalty kill was perfect against the top powerplay unit in the league. Taylor Epp was Player of the Game for Briercrest, and Pat Thompson-Gale for Augustana. Catch tomorrow's rematch at 2:00pm.
For up to date information on the Briercrest Hockey team follow them on Facebook.