With a huge crowd, a massive 50/50 draw, a new mascot and jersey auctions between periods, it was easy to forget there were actually two points at stake.
Keegan Bruce scored with 4:20 remaining to earn those points for the Weyburn Red Wings in a 4-2 victory over the Estevan Bruins Sunday at Spectra Place.
The Wings would add an empty netter to seal the win in the regular season finale for both teams.
A total of 2,116 people were in attendance, a crowd that topped even the Bruins' season opener back on Sept. 17. A 50/50 jackpot of $4,577 was handed out, a total beaten only by the $6,015 prize in the opener.
Add in the unveiling of the team's new mascot, Bruino the Bear, as well as players having to skate around for live jersey auctions in the intermissions (the team wore special jerseys with proceeds going to a local daycare - here's a look), and the fact that both teams already knew their playoff fate, and it would have been easy to lose focus.
And the first period was a bit sluggish, with a lot of whistles and not many scoring chances. But despite Weyburn spending a lot of time in the Bruins' end, Tyler Paslawski opened the scoring at 10:57 on a shot from the right circle.
The pace picked up in the final 40 minutes. Jesse Ross scored a shorty at 6:46 when he chased down a puck that had been cleared by the Wings. Tyler Ross decided a little too late to go out for a poke check, then changed his mind, and he paid for it by getting deked for a little Ross-on-Ross crime.
Tanner Froese got that one back about six minutes later, taking a centering pass from Calder Neufeld and beating Mitch Kilgore.
Less than two minutes into the third, former Bruins top prospect Kyle Oleniuk burned the team he chose not to play for, burying a rebound at the side of the net.
Bruce would later score the winner off a bad bounce in front of the Bruins' net, and try as they might, the home side could not beat Kilgore a third time. Miguel Pereira added a late empty netter.
Other than the Dochylo-Jelinski-Paslawski unit, which has been the Bruins' best line on most nights the last few weeks, every other line and pairing was mixed up tonight. Brykaliuk and Froese played with Neufeld on the top line. Rhett Handley, a local product, and Connor Venne, both '94 forwards from the Tisdale Trojans, were AP'd for this one. Handley played with Olson and Whitehill, and Venne was with Hengen and Smith.
The pairings were Poskus-Milligan, MacLellan-Boesch and Perrault-Kauk.
Speaking of Handley, what a way to make your SJHL debut. He was playing at home, in front of the biggest crowd in the history of Spectra Place, against Weyburn. He and Venne both got lots of minutes including PP time. Doesn't get much better than that.
On the injury front, Austin Yano will be back for Game 1 against the Hounds on Friday. He said he could have played tonight. The same goes for Ben Johnstone, who sat out both Weyburn games with an upper-body injury.
Taylor Reich, who's still wearing a sling, is expected to miss the entire survivor series. The status of Eric Baldwin is a little less clear, but it sounds unlikely that he'll be ready to go for the weekend. More on that in the interview with Keith below.