Thanks to an incredible performance on home ice, the Everett Silvertips have lived to see another day.
Riley Sutter registered the game-winning goal and added two assists, helping his squad to an electric 6-3 victory over the Swift Current Broncos in Game 5 of the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series. The win pulled the ‘Tips back within one game of the Broncos, who lead the best-of-seven affair by a 3-2 margin.
“Our guys were resilient,” said Dennis Williams, head coach of the Silvertips. “We’ve talked about it all year with our group. I thought our effort was there, I thought our execution was there. It was a desperate hockey game for our Club, and something we stressed. I was really proud of our effort, led by [Riley Sutter and Matt Fonteyne], along with the rest of our group.
“They responded the way we needed to and the energy was great in the building. It was great playing in front of our fans and it was nice to be able to send our 20-year-olds off with a win at home. There was a lot of emotion in our room and now we’ve got to reset and get focused for a tough Game 6.”
The turning point of the game came over the course of less than two minutes before the midpoint of the third period with both teams deadlocked 2-2.
Veteran forward Matteo Gennaro claimed a loose puck in the offensive zone, teeing it up for Giorgio Estephan in the slot. The 21-year-old product of Edmonton unleashed a quick shot that found the crossbar in behind Carter Hart, before ricocheted out of harm’s way.
Moments later, Silvertips forward Sean Richards executed a nifty move at centre ice to gain entry into the Swift Current zone. Cutting towards the slot, Richards sent a quick wrist shot from the circle, beating Broncos goaltender Stuart Skinner to the blocker side, giving Everett a 3-2 edge with 15:12 to go in the third period.
Less than two minutes later, a giveaway up the middle of the Swift Current defensive zone gave Everett a glorious opportunity they weren’t about to miss on. Sutter claimed the puck just inside the blueline, taking a couple steps before snapping a quick shot past Skinner to make it a 4-2 contest with 13:51 to go in the third period.
“Obviously our lives were on the line and our backs were against the wall,” Sutter said. “We responded well this game and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
From there, defenceman Noah King replied to make things interesting, sliding one past Hart with 7:09 to go, pulling the Broncos within a 4-3 margin.
But with an opportunity to close out the WHL Championship on the road, that’s the closest the Broncos got on this night as Connor Dewar added a pair of empty-net goals to seal the victory and extend the series to a sixth game back in Swift Current on Sunday night.
“This is a tough building to play in,” said Manny Viveiros, head coach of the Broncos. “It’s a great team, a great organization and great fans. It’s loud. It’s loud in there. I’m very happy of how our kids came in here, how we responded and how we played here.
“We’re very happy and we’re going home to Game 6 with a chance to clinch. There’s absolutely nothing negative other than we lost the game tonight. It’s done and over with, and we’re going back home.”
Despite the 6-3 final, Friday night’s contest was much close than the score indicated, picking up right where Game 4 had left off on Wednesday.
The best scoring chance of the opening period came 4:46 in. Rookie import Martin Fasko-Rudas snuck in behind the Swift Current defense, snapping off a quick shot hat Skinner fought away with his blocker.
At the conclusion of the play, Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin was sent off for tripping, giving the hosts their first power-play opportunity of the evening.
With 27 seconds remaining on the man advantage, defenceman Wyatte Wylie – the local Everett product – slipped in from the blueline and one-timed a pass from the circle, finding twine to the high glove side behind Skinner and giving the Silvertips a 1-0 lead 6:19 into the first period.
As the first period continued to wind down, captain clutch extended the advantage for the home side. With 3:53 to go in the first period, Matt Fonteyne busted in alone behind the Swift Current defense before sliding a quick shot low along the ice, finding the five-hole in Skinner to make it a 2-0 game.
“Everett was just playing desperate,” Gawdin said. “That’s what led to most of their chances. We had a couple turnovers and that’s what cost us. Normally, the team that makes the most mistakes or turnovers is going to lose the game.”
The Broncos managed to get one back before the first period came to a close. With Dewar serving a high-sticking minor, the visitors set up shop before Aleksi Heponiemi, Estephan and Gawdin combined for a masterful power-play marker. Dissecting the defense, Heponiemi distributed to Estephan who sent a one-touch pass to the doorstep for Gawdin, who had nothing left to do but deposit it in an empty cage, making it a 2-1 game after 20 minutes of play.
In the early stages of the second period, Gawdin continued to make his mark on the series. Sneaking in behind the defense the product of Richmond, B.C. took a pass from Colby Sissons and had nothing but time in front of the net on his own, beating Hart to tie the game 2-2 only 6:37 into the second period.
That set the stage for the exciting third period.
“We tried not to change our game, not grip our sticks,” Fonteyne said. “We went into the lockroom that it’s just another period. We’ve played 100, 101 games this season. It’s just another third period. We can’t overthink it. I thought [Sean Richards] did a really good job getting the third goal and [Sutter] as well. I’m really proud of the way the guys responded.”
By the end of the night, Hart had turned aside 21 of the 24 shots he faced, while Skinner was good on 34 of 38 attempts.
Both Sutter (1G-2A) and Dewar (2G-1A) logged three-point nights for the Silvertips while Gawdin enjoyed another multi-goal performance for the Broncos.
With a 3-2 series lead, the Broncos will have an opportunity to claim their first WHL Championship since 1993 come Game 6 on Sunday, May 13 in Swift Current.
“Obviously, the fans are going to be awesome when we go back [to Swift Current],” said Broncos forward Tyler Steenbergen. “It would have been nice to win tonight and get it over with. But we’re in a really good spot moving forward going back home. Before we came here if you would’ve said we could take two games, I think we’d take it any day of the week.”
Game 6 of the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series is scheduled for Sunday, May 13 (7 p.m. MT) at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. Fans can tune in via WHLLive.com. The winner of the 2018 #WHLChampionship Series will go on to represent the WHL at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup in Regina, Sask., from May 17 to 27.