Eoin Colquhoun, Pronghorn Athletics
LETHBRIDGE – Before the puck even dropped the Lethbridge Pronghorns knew that they had to win to move on to the playoffs, but they could not overcome a three-goal deficit and dropped a heartbreaking 5-4 game to the nationally second ranked Saskatchewan Huskies.
After UBC Thunderbirds completed a road sweep of the Mount Royal Cougars, the Thunderbirds leapfrogged the Pronghorns for the final playoff spot. The loss dropped the Pronghorns to 11-13-3 on the season and a mere two points out of their first playoff berth since 2011-12.
The Huskies will have a bye next week and finish the season with a conference best 21-5-2 record. The Huskies will host the Canada West semifinal in two weeks and home ice for the finals should they advance.
Just passed the two-minute mark the Huskies opened the scoring with Jaimen Yakubowski beating Pronghorn goaltender Garret Hughson on a sharp angle shot.
Despite being down early the Pronghorns had their fair share of chances in the opening period, especially off the sticks of Ryon Moser and Sam McKechnie but Daniel Wapple, who is making only four appearance of season had an answer each time.
Shots through the opening frame were knotted at nine apiece.
Early in the second, the Pronghorns had a glorious chance to tie the game on a three-on-one but Mitch Maxwell missed short side. The Pronghorns pressure continued in the early part of the period as Tim Campbell, Justin Valentino and Moser each had great chances but they couldn't find the mark and that would cost them.
Wyatt Johnson doubled the Huskie lead just past the eight minute mark, picking up Connor Gay and beating Hughson glove side. Only a minute later, Michael Sofillas added to the Huskie lead with a shot that Hughson never saw, while on the power play.
On a power play of their own, the Pronghorns were finally able to get one passed Wapple. Jay Merkley walked off the half wall and picked the top corner for his seventh of the season.
Trying to carry the momentum from the second, the third period did not get off to the start the Pronghorns wanted and an unfortunate bounce put the Pronghorns back down two goals only 1:02 into the period. Tyler Borstmayer just threw the puck towards the net and it deflected off a Pronghorn defender and passed a surprised Hughson.
Despite the unfortunate bounce, the Pronghorns continued to play desperate hockey and were able to get that goal back with over 11 minutes remaining. Tim Campbell found Ryan Chynoweth back door for a tap in to make the score 3-2.
Continuing to push the pace, the 'Horns looked for the equalizer but Wapple stood tall in the Huskie crease and his teammates rewarded him with another two goal lead with just under two minutes to play. Wyatt Johnson picked up his second of the game beating Hughson with a snap shot off the post and in.
Again the Pronghorns would breathe some life into their playoff hopes in the dying seconds. Jay Merkley batted a rebound out of mid-air for his second of the game with 42-seconds remaining but that would be as close as the Pronghorns would get.
The two Canada West best of three quarter-finals will go next weekend and the Huskies will host the lowest seed remaining the following week.