The Winkler Flyers came up just short in their final home game of the regular season, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Swan Valley Stampeders. Former Stamp Jagger Thomas led the way for Winkler with a goal and an assist as the Flyers lost in regulation at home for the first time in nearly a month.
After a thrilling, come from behind shootout win in Winnipeg the night before, the Flyers welcomed a Stampeders club riding a three game losing streak. The Flyers needed at least a point in one of their last two games, or a Virden loss in order to clinch fourth place in the standings and home ice advantage in their upcoming quarter-final playoff series against the Oil Capitals. Winkler did get one of those things on Sunday.
Sunday’s game was the last of six meetings between the Flyers and Stampeders with the Stampeders winning the previous two in a shootout. The Flyers won the first three.
The Stampeders took an early lead, scoring just 3:36 into the first period. Just minutes later, Swan took advantage of a Flyers’ turnover in the neutral zone and doubled their lead to 2-0 just 6:27 into the hockey game.
Winkler got one back when former Stampeder Jagger Thomas lifted a wrist shot over Swan goaltender Graham Hunt with 5:18 left in the first. Bryce Enns and Brett Klassen assisted on Thomas’ second goal as a Flyer. Swan Valley took their one goal lead into the second period.
Playing in front of one of their biggest crowds of the season, the Flyers went in search of the equalizer in the middle period and the got it on the power-play. With 5:28 left in the second, defenseman Jon Carlson redirected a Zak Hicks point shot into the back of the net, tying the game 2-2. Jagger Thomas earned an assist for his second point of the night on Carlson’s fourth goal of the season. It was the Flyers fourth power-play goal in their last three games.
Still tied in the third period, both teams began to trade chances in search of the coveted two points. Not only was this a crucial game for the Flyers, it was a big one for the Stampeders as well as they entered play with a two point lead on Selkirk for sixth place, currently avoiding the four team survivor series.
The Stampeders took the upper hand with a power-play goal of their own with 7:56 left in the third period, forcing the Flyers to play catch up again. The last two meetings, the Flyers used late game comebacks to get the game past regulation. Winkler could not do the same this time.
Despite pulling goaltender Devon Fordyce for the extra attacker in the final minute, the Flyers flurry of chances failed to translate into a goal as they were forced to settle for a 3-2 loss, their first loss at home in regulation since February 3rd.
Devon Fordyce made 33 saves in his sixth start as a Flyer. The Stampeders outshot Winkler 36-33 overall. Winkler went 1-for-5 on the power-play and 5-for-6 on the penalty-kill.
Hours after the game was over, the Virden Oil Capitals lost at home to the visiting OCN Blizzard, securing fourth place for the Flyers. Still four points up with just one regular season game left, the Flyers have earned home ice advantage in their Manitoba Junior Hockey League quarter-final series against the Virden Oil Capitals. The playoff schedule will be announced this week. Also, playoff ticket information will be announced at that time.
The Flyers (31-16-12) will travel to Selkirk (28-29-2) on Tuesday night for their regular season finale. Winkler is (3-1-1) against the Steelers this season. You can catch the game live on Country 88.9FM and online at www.pembinavalleyonline.com with Matt Friesen’s pregame show getting underway at 7:25pm.