Huskies vs Mustangs: Series for the Ages

Calgary Mustangs prove resilient amid adversity as they score unlikely win in game 7 against the mighty Whitehorse Huskies.
by Matt Burch | May 13, 2017, 7:40 AM ET

Round two saw two of the best SICHL playoff series in recent memory, as the Huskies-Mustangs and Cougars-Aces went the distance, with two teams staging 3-1 series comebacks, and both tilts ending with unlikely road wins from the underdogs.

For the Calgary Mustangs, they looked like a juggernaut that couldn't be stopped.  After closing out defending champions the Acadia Golden Bears, Calgary rolled to a 3-1 series lead after outscoring the Huskies 11-5 through the first four games.  Defense wasn't a problem for Calgary this year, thanks in large part to Ben Bishop's oustanding run that saw him almost below a 1.00 GAA through 9 games, but then game 5 happened and that's when the series turned.

Game 5 was definitely the Dr. Jekyl to Mr. Hyde for the Mustangs this playoff year.  Who has been the star so far?  Ben Bishop, clearly, yet he surrendered 4 goals in 11 shots that game.  Who has been the offensive stars?  Patrick Kane and captain Mark Giordano have been the go to guys for production, but both were negative 3 in this game.  Also of note, former, albeit temporary, Mustang Mikko Koivu potted two goals and went an amazing 16 got 21 in faceoff wins that night.

You can have off games, to be sure, but this one clearly rattled the Mustangs.  Perhaps the Mustangs were adjusting to the idea that Bishop was actually human, because Calgary went on to lose game 6 in surprising fashion.  They were ahead 2-0 after long time Mustang James Wisniewski scored his first goal of the playoffs in the third period, but what happened early in the first period would eventually dictate the rest of the game.  At 7:46 of period 1, Calgary defenseman Mark Stuart took it upon himself to jump, of all people. Huskies forward Mika Zibanejad.  Citing the instigator rule, Stuart was ejected and later given a shocking 4-game playoff suspension, which would prove to be very fateful, as we will soon see.

Calgary was ahead 2-0, but the fatigue started to set in from being a defenseman down, and the Mustangs got too comfortable and possibly were looking ahead to the next series, which is a crucial error.  First, Brendan Gallagher netted a goal which cut the lead in half early on in the third period, and the tension was gradually put on the Mustangs.  The Mustangs, with a worn out defensive corps, finally broke at 17:12 of the third period when Mikko Koivu scored again to tie the game at 2 a piece.

Finally, in overtime, the teams traded volleys, but nobody could get one by the netminders.  At 16.25, another critical moment happened as Calgary lost another defenseman.  This time it was Francois Beauchemin who, after blocking a shot, had to leave the game with what would later turn out to be a fractured foot.  Down two defensemen, hope and oxygen were big commodity for Calgary.  With time about to expire on overtime period 1, the Huskies were on a power play after series disappointment Mark Scheifele went to the box for holding.  Mika Zibanejad, who had earlier been accosted by Calgary goon Stuart, got revenge and made Calgary pay with a goal less than 20 seconds from the period's end.

Dejected, Calgary had to assess their situation, get ready to travel back to Whitehorse, and figure out what their situation on defense was going to be.  Soon after game 6, the league called GM Burch to inform him of Mark Stuart's "mandatory" 4-game suspension, to which Burch replied incredulously, "wait, how many games?!", but was quickly hung up on without a response.

So, down three defensemen, what would Calgary do?  The Andrew Ference trade to Dublin at the deadline was starting to look ominous.  Public whipping boy Carlo Colaiacovo was actually looking like a possibility as a third pairing defenseman with Christian Ehrhoff.  "I'd dress three goalies before I'd play that pylon" one insider said he overheard the GM say.

Minor league standout Brett Pesce was recalled, despite his own team Hamilton being scheduled to have a game 7 of their own.  The New York native was happy about the decision.  "I'm not happy about the injuries or the suspension, but the chance to help out the pro club in game 7 is every child's dream," said Pesce.

So Calgary had their Beauchemin replacement, but who would replace Stuart?  The answer came from an unlikely source, but one that pleased coach Winnfield greatly.  Armed with a doctors note and some sheers, defenseman Michal Rozsival strode into the office of the coach, cut off the cast on his ankle, and said, "put me in coach, I'm ready".  Some say coach Winnfield teared up a little, said "okay", then seemed pleased as punch when he called Colaiacovo to inform him he needed to unpack his bags and get ready to play for Hamilton that night.  More tears could be heard through the phone.

Game 7, I'll say it, was nothing short of a miracle for Calgary.  Having to go back to Yukon of all places, with the weight of a hungry but irritated fan base on their shoulders, the questions about their defense, and the fear of what the coach might do to them if they lost, all factored into a potentially disastrous game 7 in an otherwise great series.  Those fears were soon laid to rest, for when Calgary hit the ice, they realized they could still handle Whitehorse, and were on more equal footing than expected.  The defense question was quickly answered as Pesce, who would go on to be the number 1 star of the game, scored 7:03 into the game.  That lead would last almost the entire game.

The goaltenders were in top form, with Bishop and Martin Jones stopping 25 of 26, but it was when Jones was pulled in the final minutes that the game took on a new level of tension.  The consistently absent Henrik Zetterberg scored on the yawning net with an assist from Pesce with little over a minute remaining.  This appeared to cement the victory, but not so fast!  Less than 10 seconds later, the Huskies reminded the Mustangs they weren't out yet and scored on a shot off a rebound by Brandon Sutter.  The Mustang's stress levels skyrocketed and they began holding their sticks a little tighter.  That is to say, everyone did this, but the players who were on the ice for Calgary.  They buckled down, took the play to the Huskies' zone, and never let Whitehorse get one more shot on net.

Looking ahead, the Mustangs will be taking on the Vancouver Island Norsemen in the Canadian Conference Finals, which, by the way, is the first time Calgary has ever been.  Unlike Whitehorse and Acadia, Calgary actually had a winning regular season record against Vancouver.  Does this difference mean anything for the series?  Likely not.  That's for fans and pundits to think about.  These players and coaches know what's at stake and that a playoff series is very different from a regular season series.  We're all looking forward to seeing how it plays out!

**GM note - So much respect to the Whitehorse Huskies.  That was one of the most entertaining series I've seen and would  have wrote the same had the Mustangs lost!


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