REGINA – The Acadie-Bathurst Titan trailed by a goal and were heading to a power play with 1:34 remaining.
Under most circumstances, with a faceoff in the opposition’s end, the natural decision for a coach is to pull his netminder for an extra attacker.
Mario Pouliot didn’t even consider it because, to him, the risk wasn’t worth the reward.
Stuck in a Mastercard Memorial Cup tiebreaking quagmire late in his team’s final round-robin game against the Hamilton Bulldogs, Pouliot knew a one-goal loss still had value.
That’s what happened as the Titan lost 3-2.
“We had different scenario before the game, right? After the second, I just made sure we will stick to the first plan if we were trailing by one and that’s a decision I did before the game – even when we were on the power play,” he said. “We told our players in the last two minutes and it’s kind of just playing [by the] book.”
Had the Bulldogs scored in the vacant net and extended their lead to two goals, the Titan would have lost a potential tiebreaker advantage based on an outcome of Wednesday’s Regina-Swift Current game.
A Regina win over Swift Current would create a three-way tie for top spot between the Pats, Bulldogs and Titan.
But the Titan – based on goals for and goals against in games not involving winless Swift Current – would hold a one-goal advantage.
Another goal against would have tied the teams in that department, but Hamilton would earn the advantage based on its win between the two teams.
So, Pouliot and the Titan kept goalie Evan Fitzpatrick in the net, played it conservative and lost.
“We just played [by the] book,” he said. “It was clear before the game that if we were trailing by one, we’d just play [by the] book to keep our second chance to go directly to the final if Regina wins. It’s as simple as that.”
But wait? What about the other scenario?
If Swift Current beats Regina on Wednesday, those two teams would be tied with 1-2 records. They’d have to play a tiebreaker game a night later for the right to make the semifinal.
That would leave only Hamilton and Acadie-Bathurst with 2-1 marks, giving the Bulldogs the edge – and a bye right to the final – because of their win.
So, wouldn’t it have been better to try to and do everything possible to beat the Bulldogs rather than put your faith in Regina?
“I already answered [that],” Pouliot said.
The power play was negated with 16 seconds remaining after Titan defenceman Noah Dobson was called for slashing.
Knowing some of the math before the game, Bulldogs captain Justin Lemcke wasn’t surprised Fitzpatrick was still in the net.
“You’ve gotta do what you gotta do to set yourself up in this tournament,” he said. “We’ll get ready and see if we play Friday or Sunday.”
Leading 2-1 entering the third period, Robert Thomas scored on a power play 1:04 into the third to extend Hamilton’s lead to an all-important two goals.
But Samuel Asselin scored his tournament-leading fourth goal less than three minutes after that to restore Acadie-Bathurst’s losing advantage.
Hamilton was given a four-minute power play when Elijah Francis was called for high sticking Will Bitten less than a minute later.
Gruden wasn’t concerned his team wasn’t able to regain the two-goal lead.
“I don’t care, honestly. If we have to play Friday, we have to play Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t matter because when we play the right way, we believe that we’re a very tough team to beat.”
All that’s left to do now is watch and pick sides to see who helps them get to the final without having to play another game.
For the Bulldogs, that means rooting for the Broncos.
“We are for one day,” Lemcke said.
“We’re cheering for Swift Current,” Bulldogs defenceman Riley Stillman said. “They should have a good game. They’re 0-2 right now. They’re a desperate team. They wanna to play in that tiebreaker game. We’re pushing for them. Hopefully they can do the job.”
The Titan chose not to go for it in the dying minutes.
They must now hope the Pats pull through for them.
“Our goal was to win today so that we control our own destiny,” Titan captain Truchon-Viel said. “We didn’t play a real good game today and I know we’re better than that and now we have to wait and see what’s going to happen.”