During the first intermission of the 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship bronze medal game on Sunday at the Takhini Arena, Team Manitoba and Team British Columbia were informed that a berth in the gold medal game would be on the line after Team Alberta male was informed they would be disqualified from the gold medal contest because of travel arrangements and their unwillingness to change their plans.
The first two periods of the game were close, but it was Manitoba that managed to break the game open in the third to win 5-3 and earn a chance to play Saskatchewan for gold.
It was Manitoba that got on the board first shorthanded at the midway point of the opening frame. Matthew McLeod took a breakout feed from Bryden Sinclair. He split through the defence and only had the B.C. goalie, Aaron Trotter, to beat.
McLeod made no mistake as he rifled a shot over the pad and under the arm of Trotter.
The two teams played defensive hockey in the first period and outside of McLeod's goal not much offence was generated. The shots that did make it through to the net were effortlessly kicked aside by Trotter and Manitoba goalie Zach Grouette.
B.C. knotted the game at one early in the second period. While killing a penalty Lleyton Shearon won the puck off of the Manitoba defenceman. He skated in on Grouette and shot the puck five-hole to even the score.
Like the first, the second period had both teams playing defensive.
The third period is when the game began to open up and tilt Manitoba's way. It took Manitoba two minutes to retake the lead in the third.
Getting their cycle game going and sustaining pressure in the B.C. zone, they worked the puck out front and Conner Roulette let a shot go that took an unlucky bounce off of the B.C. defender and past Trotter. The lone assist was awarded to McLeod.
Energized by their early tally, Manitoba made it a two-goal advantage three minutes later.
Nakodan Greyeyes got the outlet pass, put on a burst of speed and split between the B.C. defenders to skate in alone on Trotter. He let a quick wrist shot go into the top corner past Trotter's glove hand. The helper went to Branden Hill.
Manitoba's flurry continued. This time, it was Roulette getting behind the B.C. defencemen and going in uncontested on Trotter. He snapped the puck five-hole to put the Manitoba side up 4-1. Colby Bear assisted on the play.
Greyeyes, the Manitoba captain, said the team knew they could turn it on in the third.
"Our room is pretty old and we've been here before," said Greyeyes. "We know what to do and we knew we could take over later on. That was the message and just keep going with it."
On the power play, B.C. was able to stop the bleeding and cut into the Manitoba lead. Tyson Lampreau took a shot from the top of the circles which took a fortuitous bounce past Grouette. Assists were given to Branden Toye and Kolton Cousins.
Just under the halfway point of the third, Manitoba restored their three-goal lead. Sinclair, from the point, unleashed a booming slap shot that found its way through the traffic in front, hitting the post, and finding the twine behind Trotter.
In the dying moments of the third, B.C. pulled the goalie and continued to fight for the win. They got on the board once more with 40 seconds remaining on a beautiful goal.
Alex Erichuk had the puck at the blue line. He created some space and opened up a passing lane and fed a saucer pass over to Lampreau, who was standing at the left face-off circle.
Lampreau unleashed an Ovechkin-esque one-timer that Grouette had no chance on as he couldn't get to the other post quickly enough.
However pretty, the goal came too late. Manitoba was content to sit back and kill off the remaining time to earn the gold medal berth.
"It's a good tune-up, and we know what to expect from Saskatchewan so we are ready to go," said Greyeyes after the game.
Manitoba went on to win the gold medal game against Saskatchewan 6-1. See the Star's coverage from the past Monday for more details.
Because of Alberta's disqualification, B.C. was awarded the bronze medal.