February 21, 2011
Western Juniors serve up another Classic
By SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency
Chandler Stephenson scored the pond-hockey winner many times as a youngster.
On Monday afternoon, the Regina Pats rookie did it in front of more than 20,000 fans.
Stephenson picked the top corner on a two-on-one with 36.5 seconds left to give the visiting Pats a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Hitmen at McMahon Stadium.
“I haven’t been on the pond in awhile,” the Saskatoon product said with a smile that reached from ear to ear.
“But that’s definitely a big one for me.”
One day after the NHL’s Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens, the Hitmen battled back from a 2-0 deficit — on goals from Jaynen Rissling and Kris Foucault — in front of a junior-hockey record crowd of 20,888 fans.
The outdoor tilt appeared destined for overtime — the previous three meetings between the clubs required extra time — but then a bad hop led to a turnover at the Calgary blueline.
Dyson Stevenson fed Stephenson and the fifth-overall pick in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft went top shelf for the winner.
Stevenson, who scored the first goal of the afternoon, said he enjoyed everything about Canada’s first outdoor junior hockey game.
“I go to the Riders games a lot,” Stevenson said of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. “But I think this was a lot better than watching the Riders play.
“It was really cool to play with all those fans.”
The Hitmen dropped to 19-37-4 on the season, while the Pats, who also got a goal from Garrett Mitchell, improved to 21-32-8 and moved to within five points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Stevenson opened the scoring on a nice deflection before Mitchell increased the lead with a top-shelf beauty on a second-period breakaway.
Rissling’s powerplay goal late in the middle frame snapped an 0-for-16 drought with the man advantage.
The Hitmen defenceman said it took him awhile to get used to the outdoor rink, despite some advice from a participant in Saturday’s Heritage Classic alumni game.
“My first lap in warmup, I turned and ran into the boards,” Rissling said with a smile. “(Assistant coach) Joel Otto had told us when he was out there, it seemed a little more narrow than usual.
“I didn’t really believe him, but I guess I should have.”
Foucault’s rebound marker evened the score near the midway point of the third period.
The Calgary product said it wasn’t his first in an outdoor setting.
“I think I’ve scored a few outdoor goals growing up,” Foucault said. “But that was the most special.”
The Hitmen, as has been the case most of this trying season, didn’t get the result they were looking for.
But Foucault said just being part of the Heritage Classic weekend was something he’ll always remember.
“We have to walk away from this and know we were part of something special,” Foucault said. “We set a record with the crowd and we have to thank our fans for that.”