Despite the game meaning nothing in the standings, a record crowd was on hand to watch the CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins battle the Weyburn Red Wings in their regular season finale on Sunday.
On a day which the Bruins unveiled their new mascot, Bruino the Bear, and wore special jerseys that were auctioned off in the intermissions as a fundraiser for local daycares, a crowd of 2,116 people showed up for the Bruins’ 4-2 loss to the Wings.
The Bruins had taken the first half of the home-and-home 6-3 on Friday in Weyburn.
Bruins head coach Keith Cassidy said his team didn’t have any trouble getting up for Sunday’s game, despite the potential distractions.
“When you’re playing Weyburn and they’re just down the road and your natural rivals and you have a hatred of that team anyway, it’s not too tough to get them focused,” he said.
An errant Weyburn point shot deflected off Keegan Bruce and into the net for a goal that would stand up as the winner with 4:20 remaining.
Miguel Pereira later added an empty-netter for the Wings.
Estevan had opened the scoring at 10:57 of the first when Tyler Paslawski beat Weyburn starter Mitch Kilgore from the right face-off circle.
“(Matt) Dochylo was in there banging around as he usually is. (Josh) Jelinski hopped on the loose puck and I happened to be open in the slot. He made a perfect pass on the tape and it found its way to the back of the net,” Paslawski said of the goal.
But Wings star Jesse Ross tied it up less than seven minutes into the middle frame. With his team killing a penalty, the puck was sent deep into the Estevan zone. Ross caught up to it just as Bruins goalie Tyler Ross went out for a poke check, but the tender changed his mind and gave the other Ross an easy opening.
Six minutes later, Tanner Froese took a centring pass from Calder Neufeld and slammed it home to restore the Bruins’ lead.
Weyburn’s Kyle Oleniuk tied it less than two minutes into the third on a rebound. Oleniuk was originally a Bruins prospect who chose not to play for the team.
Cassidy said he was happy with his team’s reaction to the Bruce goal and that they kept pressing for an equalizer.
“Previous versions of us would have gone a little crazy and that would have been the end of the game right there, but it didn’t faze us,” he said.
Aside from the Jelinski line, the Bruins mixed up all of their other lines and pairings for Sunday’s game. Cassidy said it was in part because they were missing Taylor Reich and Ben Johnstone and had two affiliated players in the lineup, 17-year-old forwards Rhett Handley, an Estevan native, and Connor Venne from the Tisdale Trojans.
On Friday, the team had called up local player Dylan Johner as well as Darcy Deroose, both from the Moose Jaw Generals.
“They didn’t look out of place at all and that speaks greatly to the job that Rick Oakes has done recruiting these players,” said Cassidy.
The APs each played a regular shift. During Friday’s game, Deroose had a goal and an assist while Johner added an assist.
On Friday, the Bruins took a 3-1 lead after the first period and built on that in the final 40 minutes.
Matt Brykaliuk, Cole Olson and Neufeld each scored in the first, with Pereira replying for Weyburn.
Kevin Morrison pulled the Wings within one early in the second, but the Bruins responded with goals from Dominic Perrault and Tyler Poskus later in the period.
Deroose and Coltyn Sanderson traded goals in the third.
The Bruins now prepare to open the survivor series against the Notre Dame Hounds. The best-of-five series begins Friday in Estevan, with Game 2 on Saturday in Wilcox. If the series goes the distance, the teams will then play on three consecutive nights: Monday in Estevan, Tuesday in Wilcox, and Wednesday in Estevan for the deciding fifth game.
Bruins defenceman Austin Yano has recovered from a shoulder injury and will be in the lineup Friday. Forward Ben Johnstone sat out the Weyburn games with an upper-body injury but will return Friday as well.
Left winger Taylor Reich (shoulder) is expected to miss the entire series, but could return if the Bruins extend their season.
The status of right winger Eric Baldwin (sprained ankle) for the weekend is unclear.
“We’re really going to push him this week to see where he’s at. I think he’s not as far along as he would like to be,” said Cassidy.
Although the fourth-place Bruins (28-28-0-2) finished 11 points ahead of the Hounds (22-32-0-3), Cassidy said it’s critical that his team not take them lightly.
“As far as being overconfident, you know what, Notre Dame’s been playing some good hockey lately. It doesn’t matter what game we’re going into, if we take it lightly, it’s not a good thing.”
That said, he’s confident in the way the Bruins wrapped up the regular season.
“We’ve come out, we’ve skated hard, we’ve been disciplined in terms of our positioning and doing the things that have been asked of us,” Cassidy said. “I would like to see a little more attention to us getting pucks on net, but other than that, the feeling in the room is good, the guys battled hard for one another and that’s all we can ask for going into the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, the Bruins announced their nominees for the year-end SJHL awards on Monday. They are Tyler Kauk (top rookie), Connor Milligan (top defenceman), Dylan Smith (player of the year), Josh Jelinski (MVP) and Steven Glass (top goalie).