It was a battle between the top two teams in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League on Friday night in what was a classic back and forth tilt, before the Steinbach Pistons took over in the third period and came away with a 7-3 win at the TG Smith Centre.
The Pistons were fresh off a week away from any game action and it took a bit to shake the rust off the legs. At the midway point, it was Mack Graham ripping home his 30th goal of the year to push the Pistons ahead 1-0. Will Koop grabbed the lone assist on the opening scoring marker.
Winkler responded quickly, just over a minute later to tie the game at one all. Both teams traded chances as Steinbach's Roman Bengert and Winkler's Cole Weaver stood tall on several key chances. The period ended deadlocked at one's.
In the middle period, the Pistons put on their hardhats and worked the puck down low. The Flyers were forced into taking a penalty and while the delayed penalty was waiting to be called, Bengert hustled to the bench to give Steinbach the extra attacker. Drew Anderson showed off some good speed and puck control to keep the disc away from the Flyers at their blue line as the forward circled the zone, the puck made it's way down low before Ryan Carlson found a wide open Landon Plett in front, who went top shelf to make it 2-1. For Plett, he now has 17 goals on the year, which sets a new career high for the Blumenort, MB product.
The Flyers again battled back to tie the game 2-2 but before the period came to an end, it was Will Koop finding the back of the net for the 18th time this season to give Steinbach the advantage heading into the third period. Bradley Schoonbaert and Mack Graham picked up the assists.
In the third, Steinbach opened up the flood gates.
Schoonbaert got the scoring parade started less then five minutes into the period. He took the puck wide along the boards and went streaking in, he picked his spot and placed an absolutely perfect wrist shot top corner that left many in attendance speechless and wide-eyed. Schoonbaert went crashing into the boards soon after the puck crossed the line and did get up a little slowly. He shook it off and played the rest of the game. Schoonbaert now has 24 goals while Mack Graham capped off a three point night with the only assist on the goal.
Braden Purtill also was banged up in this game. He caught an edge and went into the boards hurting his shoulder. He went to the bench doubled over in pain and it looked as though it could be a serious injury. Purtill however, never missed a shift. After a quick check up, Purtill headed back onto the ice and right into his office at the front of the net. A point shot from Darby Gula was picture perfectly deflected by Purtill for his 10th goal of the year as the lead swelled to 5-2.
"We just kinda won a battle in the corner and my first reaction was to go to the net and I was lucky to get a stick on it." Purtill said after the game. "We had a bit of a slump last game but we came out good tonight so we need to just keep it rolling."
Danny Pion got into the scoring act as the young forward chipped in his 5th of the year with Wyatt Hinson and Joseph Leonidas picking up the assists.
Following a goal from the Flyers to cut the lead to 6-3, it was Purtill again finding the back of the net and talked through the goal that sent fans into a pancake induced frenzy. "I was calling for the pass hard, really great pass from Bo (Jordan Bochinski), it was a really unselfish play." A tap in for his 11th gave the Pistons 7 goals at home which gives fans pancakes at a local restaurant in Steinbach.
The final horn sounded and Steinbach increased their lead over Winkler in the standings to eight points with three games less played.
Despite scoring 7 goals, the Pistons had several defensive break downs and Purtill talked about the comfort a guy like Roman Bengert being in net brings. "Benny is just, Benny. He's unreal in the pipes. It's a big confidence boost for us cause we know he's going to come out every night and put his hardhat on."
Bengert finished the night with 27 saves. The power play was 0-1 while the penalty kill was 2-2.
The Pistons will have the Swan Valley Stampeders come to town on Sunday night in what could be a first round playoff preview. "Any team we play right now is a big game we need to play." Purtill said after the game. "We can't take any team lightly, especially coming towards playoff time. It's time to get the winning mentality heading into playoff time."
Puck drop Sunday is 7:00pm at the TG Smith Centre. The game will be streamed here on SteinbachOnline.com https://www.steinbachonline.com/pistons-schedule