Even resting some of their top players, the Humboldt Broncos were able to send the Portage Terriers home in their last round-robin game of the RBC Cup in Humboldt.
The Broncos took on the Terriers for the eighth time this season (the two vied for the ANAVET Cup in a seven-game series at the end of April) on May 10.
It was a must-win situation for the Terriers, if they wanted to remain in the tournament and move on to the semifinals.
But they couldn’t pull it off.
Without many of their top players in the lineup — Josh Roach, Mathew Backhouse, Adam Zbitniff, Neil Landry and John Lawrence were all rested — and with some inexperienced guys on their lines like David Stumborg and David Miazga, the Broncos still dominated most of the play in the evening game, which attracted a crowd of 1,782.
The Terriers came out of the box hot, and were able to score the first goal at 1:42 of the period after blitzing Bronco goaltender Colin Dzijacky.
The Broncos tied things up with a goal by Taylor Duzan — his first of the tournament, which he celebrated with a huge leap in the air — at 12:59. Assists went to Adam Antkowiak and Nathan Hudema.
When Bronco Andrew Johnston’s drive to the net was interrupted by some interference by the Terriers at 13:33 of the second, he got a penalty shot, and got the puck over the head of Terriers goalie Adam Iwan.
That gave the Broncos a 2-1 lead.
Another goal by Emrik Guillemette, assisted by Kameron Ballas and Johnston, put the Broncos up 3-1 at 18:30 of the second.
But the Terriers, rallying, scored a goal on Bronco goaltender Matt Hrynkiw, who had replaced Dzijacky halfway through the second, with just 28 seconds left in the period to bring the game to within one.
A bad bounce when Iwan was out of the net led to another goal for Johnston at 2:39 of the third, but Portage came back with another point at 6:47, scored on a power play.
The Terriers kept the pressure on Humboldt as the seconds of the third ticked away. They pulled Iwan in the last minute of play, and it looked as though they might be able to tie things up.
But when Ryan Marshall of Humboldt managed an empty-net goal at 19:35, Portage lost heart.
Their RBC Cup tournament was over with a 5-3 loss to the Broncos, and a tournament record of one win and three losses.
Johnston, once again named player of the game, said it felt a little different on the ice that night than in other games, with the young guys out there, “but we got a win.... The young guys stepped up... (and were) all playing well.”
Broncos head coach Dean Brockman said he and his team have talked about eliminating a team at a time at this tournament.
“We thought if we had a chance to eliminate a team tonight, we should take that chance,” he told reporters afterwards, referring to the Terriers as a “nemesis” of the Broncos.
“I give them full marks,” he said of the Terriers. “They threw everything on the line.... We bent but we didn’t break.”
With a day off before the semifinals, Brockman said the plan was to get his team to relax and have some fun on their day off, then get back to work for the semifinal.
Duzan was elated to be back in the action for this game, his third of the RBC Cup.
“It’s getting better every game,” he said. “Finally getting back in shape.”
Duzan had been out with an injury for weeks of the playoff season, not making his return to the ice until the Broncos’ first RBC Cup game against the Woodstock Slammers.
In their fourth round-robin game, Duzan, the shortest player on the team at 5’3”, was on the same line as the biggest guy in the tournament — Adam Antkowiak, who stands 6’7”.
“I like playing with bigger guys,” Duzan grinned after the game. “I get more room to move out there and they protect me a little bit.”
His first goal of the tournament put a big smile on his face.
“I was a little overexcited,” he said, admitting he was razzed about it in the dressing room afterwards.
Hrynkiw told reporters after the game that Brockman played both goalies in their last round-robin game just to get them both ready for the playoff run.
“I think we pulled together... it was a full team effort out there,” he said.
Looking ahead to the weekend, the players sounded much like their head coach often does.
“We’re going to have to play our game, keep it simple,” said Duzan. “To play smart, not overwork and save ourselves for Sunday.”
Their plan is to “come out hard and get the win on Saturday,” Johnston said.
They play in the afternoon against the Woodstock Slammers — a time that makes the team happy, Johnston indicated.
“In our afternoon game this week, we came out with a good amount of jump,’ he explained, and the time gives the team a longer time to rest before Sunday’s final.
But they had to win on Saturday first, he noted.
It’s one game, one win at a time.