County of Grande Prairie Kings goaltender Will McCreight watches the puck during the third period of North West Junior Hockey League playoff action between the Kings and the Sexsmith Vipers at the Sexsmith Arena on Monday night. The Kings overcame a 3-2 deficit and picked up a 4-3 win, extending the best-of-five series to the limit. Puck drop for Game 5 is 8:30 p.m. at the Crosslink County Sportsplex on Thursday night.
Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald Tribune
The County of Grande Prairie Kings scored two third-period goals to defeat the Sexsmith Vipers 4-3 in North West Junior Hockey League (NWJHL) playoff action at the Sexsmith Arena on Monday night.With the win, the NWJHL best-of-five series is tied at two each with the series decider set for Thursday night at the Crosslink County Sportsplex. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.“It was a character win, but that’s our group,” Kings Head Coach Kyle Chapple said in the narrow hallway, just down the stairs and through a door from the ice surface. “We faced some serious adversity in the third period when we went down by a goal with 10 minutes left. We could have easily hit the panic button but our group stuck together, worked hard and found a way to come back in that hockey game.”“We knew we had to put our heads down and go to work,” Kings captain Austin Hrehoruk added. “We got the job done and now we have to start thinking about [Game 5] on Thursday.”The winning goal came at 17:40 of the third period when Hrehoruk fought off a couple of defenders and found himself alone with the puck in front of Sexsmith goaltender Tyson Walker. The captain skated to his right and went around Walker to deposit the puck into the open net.“To see the puck go in the net was a huge relief, especially with [us trailing in the series] and with me being a 21-year-old, along with other 21-year-olds in here,” Hrehoruk said. “The junior career goes by pretty quick and we’re just trying to get as much out of it as we can.”“Our captain was a true leader [on Monday],” Chapple added. “He was involved in the tying goal, doing a good job of driving to the blue paint and then he fights off two or three guys to get the game winner.”Louka Richard tied the game 3-3 with a power-play goal at 13:55 of the final period, cancelling out a Vipers man-advantage goal by Keaton Auger at 9:23 of the third period.The Kings found themselves in the unenviable situation of having to win an elimination game on the road after dropping two consecutive games to the Vipers after winning the opener by four goals in a 5-1 victory.In Game 2, the Kings built a 4-0 lead in the second period but the Vipers had other ideas besides a one-sided game and came back with the next five goals to win 5-4. The following night, the Vipers picked up a 7-5 win at the Crosslink, sending the Kings to the edge in a must-win road game in a tough place to play.“In Game 2 we sat back and let them attack us and they gained some momentum off it,” Chapple said. “On home ice [in Game 3], I don’t think we played that bad. We had chances to win the game, with a few missed opportunities and a few missed assignments. We played in their end the whole [third] period and they found away to score late. It’s just one of those things. I wasn’t disappointed in our group.”Even though the tying goal came on the powerplay, the man advantage looked disjointed on Monday night with too much puck movement while the two units just lacked overall crispness. The Kings went 1-5 on Monday night.Chapple attributed part of the power-play issues to the arena in Sexsmith as the ice surface is smaller than the frozen and friendly confines of the Sportsplex. But there was more to it than that.”“We’re trying to get too fancy, at times,” Chapple said of the powerplay. “We’re trying to simplify it and get the puck to the net. Some guys are trying to do too much. But the nice thing is we get a practice in before the next game and we can work on those things.”Wyatt Lawrence and Jaiden LaPorte also scored for the Kings. Will McCreight was solid in the net, turning aside 28 pucks for the win.