South East Athletic Club Tigers forward Shane Smith celebrates after scoring in an Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League playoff game against the Okotoks Oilers at Hockey Hounds Arena on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.
Story/photo courtesy of Ryan McCracken/Medicine Hat News. For more local sports content, please visit www.medicinehatnews.com.
Hard work paid off for the South East Athletic Club Tigers on Thursday night at Hockey Hounds Arena.
After going 2-10-1 down the stretch of their Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League season, the Tigers rallied to sweep the Okotoks Oilers in the first round on Wednesday’s 1-0 shutout – sending SEAC to the Ram South Division final for the first time since 2012.
“These guys, I’m at a loss for words. They just work so hard and they’re so deserving,” said Tigers head coach Jason Bartram. “We weren’t blessed with 50-goal scorers. This team has to work hard to be in hockey games and have a chance and we worked hard. We worked hard down the stretch – even when we were on a losing skid, they worked hard all year. We got great defence today, great goaltending again, and we got a bounce and things went our way.”
Okotoks came out strong, but Kaiden Morin kept the Tigers in a scoreless game despite being outshot 16-8 through 20 minutes.
While the Tigers came surging back in the second period to take a 25-22 edge in shots into the third, they too ran into a hot goaltender in Okotoks’ Rhett Harten and were forced to keep searching for the opener in the final frame.
“Great goaltending today from both sides,” said Bartram. “Both teams worked extremely hard. It was a good game to watch. I may be a little biased, it just looked like the Tigers wanted it a little more.”
The Tigers kept to their hard-working ways and Shane Smith finally beat Harten on a shot from the top of the circle to spark life on the bench and send the Oilers into panic mode.
“It’s amazing that we can finally have a team make it to the second round. Here we come Red Deer,” said Smith. “We all work hard, get pucks deep, bang bodies. We’re a hard-working team.”
Okotoks pushed back in search of an equalizer but Morin kept the door closed to lock up the series victory with a 33-save shutout.
“We went through a slump after Christmas but we pulled out of that just in time to get the win here,” said Morin. “We worked hard in the first game and came out here and worked hard again. I think we’ve got a good chance in the second round too.”
Harten stopped 29 shots in the loss.
The Tigers will take on the Red Deer Rebels for the division championship. The series will start Sunday in Red Deer.