For the fourth straight Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League season, the championship hopes of the Brandon Wheat Kings were dashed in the semifinals.
Kirk Lycar, a prospect of the WHL’s Wheat Kings, tied Sunday’s game with 18 seconds left in the second period, then netted the game-winner in the third as the visiting Eastman Selects won the decisive fifth game in their best-of-five series 4-3 at the Sportsplex.
It was a hard loss for the Wheat Kings to swallow, as they had their eyes set on playing in the final for most of the season and held a pair of two-goal leads on Sunday.
"It’s the toughest," said Wheat Kings captain Duncan Campbell. "We have a two-goal lead and we have to protect it. They got lucky, they squeaked in and rolled in. That was the closest we’ve ever been. I’m still in disbelief the season is over. It’s the toughest."
Brandon looked in control of the game in the second period when Bradley Schoonbaert came into the Eastman zone, skated around his defender and snapped a shot past Mario Petit to give the Wheat Kings a 3-1 lead.
However, Brandyn Smook’s shot trickled through Brandon goalie Reid Stallard and into the net seven minutes later.
Lycar’s shot with 18 seconds left in the frame also somehow found its way through Stallard to tie the game and gave the Selects momentum heading into the dressing room.
"I guess I got unfocused," said Stallard, who made 28 saves.
"It’s not what my team needed, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.
"We have a pretty positive group of guys. We knew it was going to be a battle and I think we came out pretty positive after the second intermission."
Brett Howden made a great backhanded pass from behind the net in the third period that caught the Wheat Kings flat-footed and gave Lycar an open cage to put home the winner.
Brandon tried to claw back, but fatigue set in. The Wheat Kings, who dressed only 16 skaters due to injuries, struggled to find their legs and turned the puck over a lot in the final frame, which killed their comeback hopes.
"At the end of the day, and it’s not an excuse, but when you’re missing some key players, it started to show in the third period because you could tell we were running out of gas," said Wheat Kings head coach Ken Schneider. "There was some fatigue there to make the push, and give Petit credit, he was outstanding right from Game 1 and we put a lot of pucks at him and he stood the test."
Petit finished the game with 35 saves.
Campbell and James Shearer also scored for Brandon, while Josh Kobelka assisted on both markers. Devon Skoleski netted a short-handed goal in the first period for the Selects, who will face the Winnipeg Wild for the league title.
Although they fell short of the final again, the Wheat Kings took a lot of pride in topping the regular season with a 39-3-2 record, and Campbell admitted he created a lot of good memories in the process.
"It’s been the greatest year of my life," the 17-year-old forward said. "I’m going to remember this year for a long time and it’s one of probably the best three (in midget) that I’ve played."