Friday, 04.14.2017 / 10:24 pm CT
By Alex von Keudelln / Photo: Rebekah Bing
Opening the 2017 Robertson Cup playoffs on the road against the division-leading Lone Star Brahmas, the Wildcats played a tough and close game but fell 3-0 in North Richland Hills on Friday night.
The first period was an embodiment of playoff hockey: few penalties, few mistakes, strong defense, and low scoring. It was evident the Wildcats had spent a long, hard work practicing their play away from the puck, because they fought with every fiber in their beings to keep the Brahmas’ scoring chances at minimum.
Jared Dempsey was forced to make 10 saves in the opening 20 minutes. Lone Star sniper Pete Kessel had a strong scoring chance at the top of the left circle, where he ripped a wrist shot high glove-side on Dempsey. The Wildcats’ goaltender snagged the puck to keep the game scoreless.
Ricky Carballo had the best chance of the period for the Cats. Off a rare Brahmas lapse, Carballo motored past a flat-footed defense to gain a breakaway down the slot, but his shot was fought off by Lone Star’s Max Prawdzik. Prawdzik went 9-for-9 in the first period. Registering four unanswered shots to conclude the opening frame, the Cats sought to ride their momentum into the next period.
Very little changed in the second period, with both teams exchanging scoring chances evenly and infrequently. A 5-on-3 Wildcats power play was quelled by a very stingy and disciplined Brahmas penalty kill eight minutes into the period. Gaining some momentum from the big kill, the Brahmas finally broke through.
At 34:55, Dempsey came out of his net to play the puck to the right of his net. Attempting to clear the zone quickly and alleviate any pressure, the puck just happened to ricochet off of Aidan Spellacy’s stick and it deflected right in front of a vacant Wichita Falls net. Spellacy tapped it home to open the scoring late in the second. Dempsey would redeem himself moments later, making a miraculous save with the shaft of his stick on a point-blank shot by Justin Addamo to keep the Cats within a goal.
Lone Star controlled the pace to start the closing period. An early tripping penalty assessed to Wyatt Mathews would come back to haunt the Cats, as the Brahmas’ top goal scorer during the regular season Pete Kessel (27 G) fired a one-timer past Dempsey’s blocker from the left circle to give the Brahmas a 2-0 lead.
After the media timeout, the Cats turned things around and began pressing to break the ice. A close call went against them as Carballo drove the net and was checked from behind, which dislodged the goal. Ryan Burnett tapped home a rebound, but the goal was waived off because the net had come off. No penalty was assessed to Lone Star for causing it to be dislodged.
Carson Kelley tacked on an empty net goal with three seconds left to seal the deal, as the Cats dropped Game 1 by a closely fought 3-0 decision.
Prawdzik pitched a 23-save shutout, while Dempsey played a solid game, as well, stopping 31 of 33 Lone Star shots. The Wildcats can split the series tomorrow night. Puck drop for Game 2 is scheduled for 7:30 pm CT at NYTEX Sports Centre.