It was a long time coming, but the Cranbrook Bucks are officially a BC Hockey League team. In fact, not only did they play their inaugural game over the weekend, but they also picked up the first win as a franchise.
On Saturday, Cranbrook played its debut BCHL game against the powerhouse Penticton Vees. The Bucks hung around with the Vees for most of the game and gave them everything they could handle in a 6-3 defeat.
The following day, the Bucks battled the Trail Smoke Eaters in a Sunday afternoon tilt. This time, Cranbrook was able to pull through and declare victory for the first time in a 5-3 decision over Trail.
The Bucks came out looking a lot like they did in their early games of last fall’s exhibition season. They are smaller and younger than their opponents — but they don’t play that way.
A fast, skilled, and relentlessly forechecking Cranbrook squad gave its counterparts all they could handle over the opening weekend.
In the Bucks first game, they received some fantastic goaltending from Nathan Airey, particularly early in the contest.
The @CranbrookBucks are still looking for their first goal, but Nathan Airey has already marked his presence with an outstanding stop on a two-on-one 😱#BCHLIsBack | @saveonfoods pic.twitter.com/MC4GQz4iVt
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) April 4, 2021
Airey recorded the Bucks first save just 90 seconds into the game, and continued to be busy all night. He stopped all seven shots he faced in a busy first six minutes of BCHL action and went on to face 38 shots in the game.
Following a string of early saves by Airey, the Bucks found their legs and some confidence. The result was a few scoring chances off the rush, followed by strong forechecks to regain possession.
A wildly entertaining first period of action between Cranbrook and Penticton ended scoreless, with the shots on goal also even.
The first goal in franchise history
The middle frame opened up a bit for both teams, but particularly the Vees. Airey remained steady in goal and allowed the Bucks to eventually find the scoresheet first.
❓Q. Who scored the first goal in @CranbrookBucks history?
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) April 4, 2021
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Vees finally solved Airey just over two minutes later. Penticton added another goal late in the second period, and Cranbrook entered the third period down by a goal.
The Bucks came out flying in the third period and eventually pulled even on a goal by forward A.J. Vasko — his first in the BCHL. The lone assist came from Zeth Kindrachuk, his second of the game after also getting a helper on Reid’s goal.
That was as close as the Bucks would come, as the veteran Vees squad pulled away. Penticton scored three straight goals to take a 5-2 lead, and seize control of a once exciting, back-and-forth game.
The Bucks kept fighting, and late in the third period came another milestone goal. Forward Tyson Dyck scored his first in the BCHL, with Noah Quinn picking up his first assist, and Gelbard notching his second helper of the game.
It was too little, too late for the Bucks as Penticton added an empty netter to cap off the 6-3 victory. Still, the first regular-season game was a big step for Cranbrook.
Bucks hunting for the first win
Sunday’s tilt with the Trail Smoke Eaters brought some familiarity for the Bucks as the two teams played each other seven times in last fall’s exhibition season.
The game started similar to the Bucks first game, as it was a back-and-forth affair. Cranbrook relied on new goaltender Jay Thomson to make some early saves while they settled in.
However, Trail broke the ice and took a 1-0 lead 7:53 into the game, but it seemed to wake the Bucks up and they really started rolling.
Bucks goals from their first win tonight:
🚨 Nathan Fox (1) – Asst: Rhys Bentham (1)
🚨🚨 Noah Quinn (1) – Asst: Tyson Dyck (1)
🚨🚨🚨 AJ Vasko (2) – Asst: Zeth Kindrachuk (3), Noah Leibl (1)
🚨🚨🚨🚨 Cam Kungle (1) – Asst: Noah Quinn (2)
🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 Drake Burgin (1)
— Chris Keck (@CK885) April 5, 2021
At the 11:54 mark of the first period, Bucks defenseman Rhys Bentham fired a point shot that ricocheted off the end boards. Forward Nathan Fox jumped on the rebound and buried it for his first BCHL goal, while Bentham recorded his first point with the assist.
About six minutes later, Quinn became the fifth Bucks rookie to notch his first BCHL goal, burying a rebound off the initial shot by Dyck to give Cranbrook its first lead of the night, and the team didn’t look back.
The next franchise first was a power-play goal. On another rebound, Vasko corralled a puck floating high over the net with his hand, knocked it down, and hammered it into the net. It was Vasko’s second goal of the season, with Kindrachuk recording his third assist, and Noah Leibl notching his first point.
The Smoke Eaters replied less than three minutes later and Cranbrook took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
Thomson puts his stamp on the first win
Just 25 seconds into the third stanza, Cam Kungle sniped one from the blueline for his first BCHL tally. Quinn picked up his second assist and third point of the season on the goal, which put the Bucks up 4-2.
Of course, Trail wouldn’t go down without a fight, and with 12:52 left in the period, the Smokies got back within a goal. Just 48 seconds after the 4-3 goal, the Smoke Eaters looked for the equalizer.
That is when Thomson introduced himself to the rest of the BCHL.
It just might be the greatest save in @CranbrookBucks franchise history, leading them to their first ever win
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) April 5, 2021
That save with 12:04 on the clock allowed the Bucks to calm down and regain composure as they looked to secure the win.
The Bucks settled in nicely with the help of Thomson, and some of the leaders like Vasko. Trail couldn’t find a game-tying goal, and the win was eventually cemented by an empty-netter.
With 36 seconds remaining, Drake Burgin picked up the puck below his own goal-line and fired it 200 feet into the open net, and the Bucks celebrated a 5-3 lead that held as the final.
To say it was an exciting weekend of hockey for the Bucks is an understatement, and to get that first win is huge. They got great goaltending from both Airey and Thomson, and saw all the young players take big strides forward.
Now that the first win is in the books, Cranbrook looks to make it two in a row against the Smoke Eaters on Wednesday. You can bet Trail is looking for redemption, while the Bucks look like a confident team right now.