It could be called a wild stab in the dark or a work of art, but either way it was a definite show-stopper.
Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender Mike Nichol was having an average night until he made a brilliant save on Riley Merkley of the Calgary Hitmen midway through the second period of last night's WHL contest at the MTS Centre.
Nichol looked to be down and out as Merkley pounced on a juicy rebound and tried to go top shelf. The goaltender threw his pad up in the air and robbed the Hitmen sniper. From then on Nichol was unbeatable and the major reason for Brandon's 2-1 victory in front of 3,902 fans.
"It felt pretty good about that," said Nichol, who wound up with 21 saves and stopped the last 20 he faced. "I was pretty shocked because I just tried to throw my body at him and it got me in the leg. Maybe that was the big save that got our team going."
Despite being outshot 11-3 in the first period, the Hitmen got the only goal. Wheat Kings defenceman Stephane Lenoski fell down in his own end, coughed up the puck and watched helplessly as Keegan Dansereau beat Nichol.
But Brandon set the tone physically in a game which was the second of three straight between the two teams. They played Sunday in Calgary and go at it again tomorrow in Brandon.
Winnipegger Ryan Reaves, a 17-year-old rookie and son of Blue Bomber great Willard Reaves, levelled Calgary's Tyrell Lucas with a punishing hit and then handled himself well in the ensuing fight with Dustin Kohn of the Hitmen.
"That's my role," said Reaves, who is 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds. "I try to get the team going, I play physical. I'll lay the body and drop the gloves any time if it gets the team going."
Brandon tied the score early in the second when Winnipegger Lance Monych converted a feed from Winkler's Eric Fehr on the power play. Slick Czech rookie Jakub Sindel made some nice moves down low and beat Calgary's Justin Pogge on a backhand late in the second for the winning goal.
The second period was highlighted by a penalty shot awarded to Brandon's Ryan Stone, who attempted a Peter Forsberg-like move that was handled easily by Pogge.
Pogge was brilliant all night, blocking 34 shots.
"Both goaltenders were strong," said Wheat Kings coach Kelly McCrimmon. "In our case (Nichol) had a tough start with a turnover early in the first and sometimes that gets a goalie off his game. But he settled in and played real strong."
The Wheat Kings improved to 26-18-5-1 while the Hitmen fell to 26-18-6-3.