(Wenatchee, WA)…For the better part of three periods Sunday, it appeared there would be a Game 7 of the Mainland Division semifinal playoff series between the Wenatchee Wild and Prince George Spruce Kings. The visitors had staked themselves a 3-1 lead into the third period. The Spruce Kings seemed faster through the first two periods and had the team with the most wins of any BCHL team on the ropes. But things can change oh so quickly on a slippery surface.
Wenatchee began its comeback bid 8-minutes into the final frame when Matthew Baker somehow got the puck through three Spruce King defenders, went to his right and scored an upper-shelf goal to make it 3-2. The goal also re-energized a fan-base that had sat quietly through the last half of the second. Wenatchee had what looked to be the equalizer disallowed in the second after Jimmy O’Brien’s put-back was waved off. Shortly thereafter Chon Hyun Lee put Prince George up 3-1 and Wenatchee fans nervously began making plans to buy tickets for a 7th game the next night.
But the Wild players would have none of that. With 1:22 remaining and the Wild trailing 3-2, Wenatchee Coach Bliss Littler called a timeout prior to a face-off in the offensive end. Emerging from the break, Littler kept goalie Anthony Yamnitsky on the bench and sent an extra skater on the ice. After Chris Jones took a shot from near the blue line, the rebound kicked out right and was kept in the offensive end by Brendan Harris. Harris quickly flicked the puck over for another shot by Jones, which found its mark with 1-minute remaining to tie the game at 3-3.
Then with the closing seconds winding down, AJ Vanderbeck poked the puck free from a cluster at center-ice, maneuvered down the right side, slapping a powerful shot off the pad of Prince George goalie Tavin Grant. The rebound took one flop out and right there to poke the game-winner into the net was Wenatchee’s Matthew Baker. The 2,000 fans at Town Toyota Center were apoplectic. Their team had just gone from the potential of a nail-biting, teeth-gnashing Game 7 to a 1-goal lead with 8-seconds remaining and winning the semifinal series 4 games to 2.
Two face-offs later and the puck was harmlessly trapped against the boards as the buzzer sounded and Wild players rushed onto the ice to hug en mass goalie Anthony Yamnitsky and celebrate in victory. Fans filed out of Town Toyota Center buzzing with smiles, high-fives and a collective sigh of relief.
Now to take some antacids and, in some cases, nitroglycerin pills and prepare for a best-of-seven Mainland Division Final against the Chilliwack Chiefs. Game 1 is Friday at 7 p.m. and Game 2 Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Town Toyota Center. Tickets go on sale Monday morning at the Town Toyota Center Box Office.