SWIFT CURRENT, Saskatchewan — On Wednesday Carter Hart won the Four Broncos Trophy as the WHL’s Player of the Year.
Two days later he showed why, and his efforts helped the Everett Silvertips draw first blood in the WHL championship series.
Everett’s star goaltender was at his best Friday night, turning aside 34 shots as the Tips defeated the Swift Current Broncos 2-1 in Game 1 of the league finals at Credit Union iPlex.
Hart held the fort during the second period when Swift Current applied pressure, keeping Everett in the game. Then after the Tips took the lead in the third, he made a big glove save in the final two minutes to secure the victory.
“I thought Carter Hart was really good tonight,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said via cell phone from Swift Current. “He was tracking pucks and seeing pucks. He definitely gave us that opportunity to take a tie game into the third, especially with some of the looks they had on their four-on-three power play.”
Patrick Bajkov and Connor Dewar scored the goals for Everett, with Dewar’s tally early in the third snapping a 1-1 tie and standing up as the game winner. Garrett Pilon assisted on both goals.
The victory not only gave Everett a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, it was the first win in the WHL championship series in franchise history. The only other time the Tips played for the title, in their inaugural season in 2004, they were swept by the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Everett also remained perfect away from home in the playoffs, improving their postseason road record to 8-0.
“We always say that the first game is the hardest one to get,” Williams said. “Being on the road, it was a great environment, a tough environment, the crowd was loud and their physicality was strong. We got a timely power-play goal in the first, then in the second they came around and got some momentum off the four-on-three. But we told the guys to stick to the plan, that we have more in the tank, and we came out in the third and played the way we know we can play.”
Aleksi Heponiemi scored for Swift Current, while Stuart Skinner finished with 23 saves in net for the Broncos.
Game 2 is Saturday night in Swift Current.
The score was tied 1-1 heading into the third when Everett struck early in the period to gain the advantage. The Tips controlled the puck well in the offensive zone and worked it to Ondrej Vala with a shooting lane at the blue line. Vala blasted a one-timer that was tipped by a screening Dewar past Skinner, making it 2-1 with 18 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.
Everett limited Swift Current’s scoring chances the rest of the way, with the exception of when the Tips coughed the puck up right to Matteo Gennaro between the circles in the closing minutes. Gennaro got good wood on his shot, but Hart made a reaction glove save to preserve the lead. Everett salted away the rest of the game with little drama.
“In the third I thought we made them play 200 feet,” Williams said. “The first two periods we didn’t always manage the puck well, but then in the third we did, and we started skating. After we got the lead we did a really good job, especially with their goalie pulled when we did a good job down low eating time off the clock.”
It was largely an uneventful first period as the teams tried to feel one another out. However, Everett received a power play late in the period and cashed in. Bajkov received a pass in space in the left circle, stickhandled past a defender and scored around Skinner to stake the Tips to a 1-0 lead at 14:43.
The scoring chances picked up both directions in the second period, and the Broncos scored what amounted to a four-on-three power-play goal to tie it at 11:24. Just after the penalty expired Gennaro sent the puck toward the net, where Heponiemi redirected it in at the right post to knot it at 1-1.
Th Tips finished 1-for-2 on the power play, Swift Current was 0-for-1. … Everett was back to 100-percent healthy as forwards Luke Ormsby and Martin Fasko-Rudas returned from injuries suffered earlier in the playoffs. Ormsby missed 14 games, while Fasko-Rudas was sidelined for two.
Silvertips 2, Broncos 1
Everett 1 0 1—2
Swift Current 0 1 0—1
First Period—1, Everett, Bajkov 14 (Davis, Pilon), 14:43 (pp). Penalties—Malenstyn, Swift Current (tripping), 14:18.
Second Period— 2, Swift Current, Heopniemi 4 (Gennaro, Gawdin), 11:26. Penalties—Malenstyn, Swift Current (kneeing), 3:24; Bajkov, Everett (roughing), 9:18; Steenberger, Swift Current (roughing), 9:18; Pilon, Everett (tripping), 9:23.
Third Period— 3, Everett, Dewar 10 (Vala, Pilon), 1:49. Penalties—none.
Shots on goal—Everett 9-7-9—25. Swift Current 14-12-9—35. Power-play opportunities—Everett 1 of 2. Swift Current 0 of 1.
Goalies—Everett, Hart 13-4 (35 shots, 34 saves). Swift Current, Skinner 12-9 (25 shots, 23 saves).