Game Recap: Cranbrook tops Brooks in marquee matchup to open preseason

📸: Matt Vossepoel / Brooks Bandits

One word that was often used to describe the Cranbrook Bucks during their first full BCHL season was opportunistic, and you heard that word again if you watched the Bucks play on Saturday night.

Cranbrook played a near perfect road game to open its preseason against the defending Alberta Junior Hockey League and Centennial Cup champion Brooks Bandits, picking up a 5-2 win on the road.

In a game that featured many momentum swings, the Bucks capitalized on their chances to jump out in front and never look back.

After weathering an early storm that included a successful four-minute penalty kill, Cranbrook eventually found the back of the net to open the scoring.

Following a Bandits turnover, Bucks forward Jarrod Smith found Luke Pfoh, who fired a shot from the near side, and the rebound was buried on the back door by Carter Schmidt to put Cranbrook up 1-0 at 9:20 of the opening period.

The trio of returning forwards had instant chemistry and looked great as a new-look combination that we didn’t see much of last season.

It wouldn’t be long before some new Bucks to the herd found the score-sheet as well.

At the 11:30 mark of the first, Donovan Frias tipped home a Markus Yim pass to put Cranbrook up 2-0 midway through the period.

They say a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, so the Bucks wasted little time jumping out to a three-goal advantage.

Another aggressive Bucks’ forecheck eventually led to Matt Duarte finishing the play, with assists to Noah Quinn and Cooper Boulanger to put Cranbrook up 3-0 at the 14:15 mark of the opening frame.

The Bucks would carry that lead into the first intermission despite being outshot 8-7 by Brooks, as their opportunistic play was the story of the opening 20 minutes.

Both teams seemed to settle in to a fast-flowing, back-and-forth game in the second period, with the Bucks finding themselves short handed a couple of times before the midway point of the period.

Cranbrook was successful in killing off each of the second stanza powerplay attempts, but Brooks was able to use the momentum to get on the board at 11:01 to make it a 3-1 game.

With the game’s next goal becoming a very important tally, a familiar duo was able to help restore the Bucks’ three-goal lead.

After having already combined on the opening goal of the night, Smith and Pfoh worked a pretty give-and-go play with a back door finish, and it was 4-1 Cranbrook nearing the end of the middle frame.

Brooks would add a goal in the dying seconds of the period, but the Bucks took a 4-2 lead into the intermission after outshooting the Bandits 12-8 in the second period.

Entering the final frame down a goal, the defending national champion Bandits pressed hard, outshooting Cranbrook as they looked to get back in the game.

Nearing the six-minute mark of the period, however, it was the Bucks who scored the all-important next goal.

Following an offensive zone face-off win, returning defender Bauer Morrissey found the back of the net with assists to Jaxon Fuder and Julian Frias to give Cranbrook a 5-2 lead at 5:55 of the third.

The Bucks were able to hang on the rest of the way, becoming just the second team to beat Brooks dating back to last year’s AJHL regular season.

Smith and Pfoh tallied a pair of points each in the win, while Schmidt, Yim, Duarte, Quinn, Boulanger, Morrissey, Fuder, and the Frias brothers all recorded a point.

Goaltender Nathan Airey stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced to backstop Cranbrook to the victory.

Full highlights from the game can be viewed below courtesy of the Bucks’ YouTube page.

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