Two of the top teams in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League went back and forth in a pair of games that saw both the Steinbach Pistons and Dauphin Kings come out with one win each.
Heading into the game, Steinbach was set to be a little shorthanded as Leo Chambers and Davis Fry were both missing from the lineup. Head Coach Paul Dyck was also missing as he was being honored at the Moose Jaw Warrior Hall of Fame ceremony.
Assistant Coach Calvin Bugyik took over the reins for the game and former MJHL coach and current Pistons scout Nick Lubimiv served as Assistant Coach for the evening.
On Friday night up in Dauphin, the Pistons dug themselves into a hole that despite a strong third period, were just unable to get out of as they lost 6-4.
Things started positively for the road team as Hunter Degelman finished off a wonderful shift by his line, scoring his 6th of the season. Brett Kaiser and Travis Hensrud picked up the assists.
Dauphin responded in a big way scoring to tie the game on a power play. A few minutes later, they put the hammer down with two more goals to grab a 3-1 lead.
13 seconds after the Kings went up 3-1, Landon Roberts pulled Steinbach back to within one as he went to the net and deflected home a Parker Jasper point shot for his 12th of the year. Kirk Mullen picked up the secondary assist.
In the second, the Kings pulled out further ahead as they would score twice to go up 5-2. The two goals in the middle frame chased out starting Piston's goalie Dominik Wasik after giving up 5 goals on 22 shots.
Cole Plowman came in and was called upon several times to keep his team within three as the 19-year-old battled hard and kept the score the same heading into the third.
Early in the third, Steinbach worked and was starting to get some chances. Eventually, it was Hensrud who buried his team-leading 29th of the year from Degelman and Langley Kruggel to make it a 5-3 game.
Less than a minute later, Dawson Milliken, who was in full beast mode all night long, capitalized on a two-on-one with Landon Roberts as the big 20-year-old hammered home his 10th of the year to make it a 5-4 game.
Both teams tightened up and didn't allow much through the remainder of the period. That was until the Kings took a late penalty, giving the Pistons a chance to tie the game.
With the goalie pulled, the Pistons piled on the pressure, putting up chance after chance as they searched desperately for the equalizer.
The best chance came off the stick of Warren Clark who walked in from the point, picked his spot, and wired a wrister that knocked off the knob of the goalie's stick and ended up out of play.
That's as close as Steinbach would get as the Kings sealed the game with a shorthanded empty netter to come away with a 6-4 win.
The Piston's penalty kill was strong finishing 4-5 while the power play finished 0-2.
Saturday Nights Alright For Comebacks
The two teams met again on Saturday night, this time at the TG Smith Center, and the packed house was treated to an epic back-and-forth battle which saw the Pistons come out on top 5-4.
After getting pulled the night before, Dominik Wasik was given a chance at redemption as he started the game, and despite long stretches of inactivity, he made some solid saves in the opening period.
Steinbach put in work, shift after shift but it was the Kings that struck first to grab a 1-0 lead on a two-on-one break.
The Pistons stuck to their game plan and eventually, it paid off.
Travis Hensrud started the play just outside the King's blueline as he fought the puck through the pinching Dauphin defender. As quick as lightning, Neo Kiemeney cut into the zone and picked up the puck. 20-year-old Davin Griffin turned on the jets and made his way to the net where he received a perfect pass from Kiemeney to tap home his 7th goal of the year, knotting the game at 1-1.
Shots were 15-5 for Steinbach after 20 minutes of play but the score remained 1-1.
It stayed that way until there were just 15 seconds left in the second period. A defensive breakdown allowed the Kings to score to grab a 2-1 lead before intermission.
The road team would add to that lead early in the third on a power play as the lead increased to 3-1.
Cue the dramatic if not chaotic comeback.
Ian Amsbaugh who had been smothered over the last two games was finally able to get a little space after taking the puck up the wall, faking a drop pass to the pinching defender Josh Nelson, but instead carrying it up to the top of the circle and firing a heavy shot that leaked through the Kings netminder and in to make it 3-2.
For Amsbaugh, it was goal 19 on the year and again, it was a full-line effort as Leo Chambers, back in after missing Friday night's game, and Nick Mikan had the assists.
Less than a minute later, a Dauphin player ran into a Pistons player just outside the Kings blueline, sending him to the ice in serious discomfort. The Kings never touched the puck so play was allowed to continue and 17-year-old baby-faced rookie Brett Kaiser scored his second and biggest goal of the year to tie the game 3-3. Noah Szabo collected the lone assist.
Again, less than a minute after the Kaiser marker, Warren Clark pinched in from the point and cashed in on a rebound to give Steinbach their first lead of the game. Griffin and Hensrud each notched their second point of the night on the 4-3 goal.
For Clark, he's up to 34 points this season which leads Pistons rookies. He also leads MJHL rookie defenders in points.
Dauphin didn't go away and eventually were able to tie the game after a seemingly innocent shot-pass to the slot bounced off a Pistons defender and in to tie the game 4-4.
It took all of 24 seconds for Steinbach to get the lead back as Kiemeney once again showcased his elite speed as he dashed around the net, and put a puck off the side of the goaltender's pad which allowed the rebound to come out in front to Hensrud who scored to blow the roof off the TG Smith Centre.
The 5-4 goal was the Thunder Bay product's 30th of the season, putting him among other Pistons 30 goal scorers in past years like Jack Rogers and Quinton Pepper who did it last year, Zach Purcell who scored 34 in 2019-20, Brendan Martin who potted 31 in 2018-19, Bradley Schoonbaert who buried 36 in 2017-18, Mack Graham who had 32 back in 2016-17 and Tyler Penner who collected 35 in 2014-15.
On the goal that gave Steinbach the lead, rookie defender Szabo collected his second point of the night giving him 15 points so far on the season.
Like the road team the night before, the goalie was pulled late but the clock ran out and the Steinbach Pistons came out on top of a thrilling Saturday night game 5-4 winners.
After being pulled the night before, Wasik responded with a 22-save performance.
The power play finished 0-4 while the penalty kill was a 3-4.
With the win and the Winkler Flyers losing to Portage, the Pistons are six points up on the Flyers for second place in the MGEU East division but have played one more game. Steinbach is 6 points back of Portage with a game in hand.
Rivalry Renued Monday Afternoon
The Pistons next see action on Monday afternoon as they welcome in the Niverville Nighthawks to the TG Smith Centre. Puck drop is 2:30 pm. After the game, fans are encouraged to join the Pistons on the ice for the traditional Family Skate which takes place right after the game is complete.