A controversial goal reversal robbed the Calgary Hitmen of one point in the standings, took away a chance to split a brief home-and-home series with the Medicine Hat Tigers and spoiled the return of goaltender Nick Schneider.
There was no pre-game ceremony or video tribute for the former Tiger, as Schneider entertained his old fans with 32 saves, but in the end gave up the game-winning goal to Max Gerlach with 6.5 seconds remaining in overtime on Remembrance Day.
The game didn’t always appear to be headed to an extra frame. For a few moments, the Hitmen thought they held a lead against one of the best teams in the league at closing out games.
The Tigers entered Saturday night’s tilt a perfect 9-0-0-0 when leading after two periods. They carried a 3-2 lead into the final frame when the Hitmen began to mount their comeback.
Hitmen captain Matteo Gennaro stole the puck behind the Tiger’s net. With all eyes on him, Stukel crept into the slot, where Gennaro spotted him. Stukel blasted a shot off the crossbar and in for his eighth of the season.
Shortly after Stukel tied the game at three, Tigers sniper Mark Rassell was hunting for his second goal of the game. He was sprung on a breakaway just like the night before. Last night, he opted to shoot, beating Nick Schneider up top. Tonight, he busted out the dangles, but was stopped by his former teammate, as Jake Bean swept away the rebound from harm’s way.
Building off that momentum, Andrew Fyten dialed up a basketball play to give the Hitmen (6-11-2-0) the temporary lead. He drove to the net, followed his own shot from in close, when he was tripped up. His rebound banked off his left shin pad and in.
The goal was reviewed, as the Tigers (12-6-0-0) thought that there was a kicking motion. After a lengthy look, the officials determined it wasn’t a good hockey goal.
The overturned goal also temporarily stymied the Hitmen’s chances at getting off the schneid that has haunted them over the past year and a half.
The Hitmen came into the back end of the home-and-home series having lost 11-straight to the Tigers. The last time the Hitmen downed their Central Division rivals was Dec. 18 in the 2015-16 season, when Cody Porter stopped 32 shots to earn the 2-0 shutout in Medicine Hat.
A tightly played, physical third period saw the Hitmen start overtime on the man advantage, as Gerlach was called for tripping at the 18:21 mark.
Overtime was madness, as each team sent lethal goal scorers in on odd-man rushes.
Gennaro had a breakway to kick things off, but his deke to the forehand was turned away.
Ryan Chyzowski and Tyler Preziuso had a 2-on-0 going the other way, but was denied by Schneider.
Playing in his first game back at his old barn, Schneider was once again solid, but the Hitmen fell for the 13th time in games decided by one goal or a game that featured an empty netter to finish off the Hitmen. Calgary acquired the Leduc product this spring in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 Bantam Draft.
Schneider played parts of four seasons with the Tigers, appearing in 132 games, finishing with a 76-37-3-0, 2.26 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
The Hitmen struck first, when Jake Kryski drove home his second of the season at the 1:19 mark of the first period, jamming in a rebound from a spinning shot from Mark Kastelic.
For the second time this season and in as many games, fourth liner Jaeger White opened the scoring for the Tigers in the first. He popped in a rebound that was the result of a two-on-one rush with Gary Haden.
Gerlach netted his fifth of the season for the Tigers when the Hitmen lost track of the Texas product, as they focused on a puck battle on the end boards. Baxter Anderson squeezed a pass out to the Calgary native, who pounded it past Schneider from the heart of the slot.
To close the first, Bean ripped a wrister from the point, beating Michael Bullion up top with 41 seconds left of the clock.
Bean was playing in his second game back with the Hitmen after returning from Team WHL in the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia series. His power play marker was the fifth in the last six games for the Hitmen, breathing life into their former dead-last power play at 11.11 per cent, rising to 17.65 per cent, ranking them 18th in the league.
While the Hitmen were tangling with the Tigers, 16-year-old defenceman Jackson van de Leest picked up a silver medal at the World U17 Hockey Challenge, as Team Canada Red fell 6-4 to Team USA at the Encana Events Centre in Dawson Creek, B.C. In six games, van de Leest was held pointless.
As the Team Canada score crawled across the ticker in the second period, Rassell continued his outstanding start to the season by tipping in a David Quenneville point shot on the power play, as rookie blue liner Andrew Viggars sat for cross checking. Rassell has picked up right where he left off last season with his 36 goals, as he now has 17 snipes through 18 games.
For the Hitmen, they fell to 1-2 in overtime. They were 6.5 seconds away from a shootout, which provided their only overtime win, when they clipped the Prince George Cougars 2-1 back on Oct. 22 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The loser’s point is a step in the right direction, as the Hitmen head east to continue their five-game road trip. They are back in action Tuesday night in Brandon to take on the Wheat Kings. The Hitmen will be back at the Dome Nov. 22 when they host the U.S. Division leading Portland Winterhawks (13-4-0-0).