BROOKS, AB – For the second time in three years, the Brooks Bandits will hit the ice with a chance at a national championship.
But this time, they’ll have the home crowd on their side.
On Saturday afternoon, the Bandits hold off an Ottawa Junior Senators third period comeback by a 4-3 count in a do-or-die semi-final matchup at the National Junior ‘A’ Championship tournament.
Less than three minutes into the game, Brooks’ Jakob Lee made a solid read in the defensive zone to pick up a loose puck and send Simon Boyko in alone on a breakaway.
Boyko made no mistake, pulling the puck to his forehand and sniping on tournament MVP Francis Boisvert to put the Bandits up one early.
Brooks doubled their lead to 2-0 before the end of the frame, with Ray Christy receiving a pass from captain Nathan Plessis and going top shelf from in tight at the 16:50 mark of the first.
Coming out of the first intermission the Bandits were quick to strike again, as William Lemay picked up the puck and centre ice and turned on the jets before unloading a wrist shot 43 seconds into the period to make it a 3-0 game.
Ottawa finally stopped the bleeding 8:13 into the second period off the tape of Kyle Jackson, who fired a shot past an outstretched Pierce Charleson after receiving a perfect pass on the power play from Junior Senators captain Darcy Walsh.
Newly named forward of the tournament Ryan Mahshie made his mark for the Bandits just under two minutes into the third period, potting his second goal and sixth point of the tournament.
Brooks looked to put the game out of reach a few minutes later with a goaltender interference call levelled against Ottawa, but the Junior Sens were able to score a rare short-handed goal on the Bandits from Geoff Dempster.
With 12:15 to go in regulation, Ottawa made a game out of it with a wild scramble finished off by Conor Smart to close the deficit to a single goal.
Ottawa pressed even harder in the final minutes of the game, but the combination of a too many men penalty and an outstanding save by Charleson with seven seconds to go made the difference.
Boyko was the lone player on either side to put up a multi-point performance with a goal and an assist, while Charleson improved his record on the tournament to 5-0 with 22 saves against the Junior Senators.
As for Boisvert, he faced 34 shots from the Bandits on Saturday and wound up with 30 saves in the loss.
Advancing to the national championship game, Brooks will be looking for redemption after dropping an overtime heartbreaker to the host Cobourg Cougars in the 2017 RBC Cup final.
Brooks will face the Prince George Spruce Kings in search of the second Canadian championship in franchise history on Sunday, which will take place at Centennial Regional Arena at 3:00 pm.
CHAT Sports spoke to Lee, Luke Bast, Boyko, Mahshie, and head coach Ryan Papaioannou about Saturday's clutch victory over the Junior Senators and the chance to bring home a national title on home ice.
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