By Greg Price
Taber bantam “AA” Golden Suns found out just how tough the relatively new format for South Central Alberta Hockey League playoffs can be.
A few years ago, it was your regular playoff series with seedings from the regular season with multi-game series against each opponent.
Now, there is one playoff tournament, where one bad game can get you eliminated.
After winning the regular-season crown with the best record overall in the whole league, one sluggish game undid the Golden Suns as the team dropped a 5-3 decision to host Okotoks Oilers who eventually went on to win the championship.
“It was a little unfortunate. We were banged up a bit. In tournament play, especially when you are the top seed, people are really looking to knock you off, each game was very physical. We lost two key guys up to the semifinal,” said Cam Cleland, head coach of the Taber bantam “AA” Golden Suns.
“But that wasn’t the ultimate deciding factor given how much depth we had. We had a lot of guys step up throughout the weekend.”
What was the deciding factor was lacklustre two periods for the Suns that saw them trailing 4-1 heading into the final period. A massive push by the Golden Suns had them dominating the third period, but did not prove enough with the Oilers eventually sealing the win with am empty netter with the goalie pulled.
“We had a couple of soft periods. The third period was a great period but as the cliché goes, too little too late. We brought it to 4-3 and we were chancing hard and they kind of panicked a bit throwing the puck down the ice and lost puck possession,” said Cleland. “We regrouped on the turnovers and constantly entering their zone and getting good looks and getting pucks to the net. We had chance after chance, we just needed the finish. We did not have the hockey bounces going for us that day. It was a stick here, a skate there, a wobbled puck. It just didn’t happen.”
Earlier in pool play, the Taber bantam “AA” Golden Suns were able to earn a 3-0-1 record, tying with Lethbridge for first place. A tough tie-breaking formula had the Suns finish second in pool play making for the tougher crossover.
“They broke the tie with goals against divided by goals for and it gives you a decimal number. They were 1.78 and we were 1.72,” said Cleland. “The regular round-robin was solid. The team was moving well. We got our best challenge from Cranbrook, they played us to a 4-4 tie and the other three teams we handled quite easily (Medicine Hat, Foothills, Wheatland).”
Along with finishing with the league’s best regular-season record (23-9-2), the Suns were on fire offensively, outscoring the next closest team by 36 goals (Olds Grizzlys). It makes for a bitter-sweet season for the Taber bantam “AA” Golden Suns which had plenty of successes, but must have the disappointing exclamation point of a loss in the tournament semifinal.
“It’s double disappointing losing knowing your team is so deep. I still believe we have the best team in the league, it was one of those things where we didn’t have our best game. That’s how hockey goes sometimes, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this” said Cleland. “We had the best numbers in the league for five months. At the end of the day, you can’t dwell on one disappointing loss. I told the boys I know it hurts, but you have to cut that off a bit when you put it in perspective for the whole five months. Our team developed, our individual players developed. We had fantastic results with our top guys and guys that came in having never played at an “AA” player before and grew into “AA” players in one season. There were a lot of successes for the season, but it was bitter sweet. We had such a deep club and we had that one little bump and that’s the way she goes.”