Bruins embark on epic road trip

Chilliwack’s Colton Grant gets into the face of Seattle netminder Calvin Pickard during WHL action Tuesday night at Prospera Centre. Grant’s Bruins got a 1-0 overtime win when Shayne Neigum scored 37 seconds into the extra session.

The winning goal, like the game that preceded it, was certainly no Picasso.

More like paint by numbers.

But they all count the same, and when Shayne Neigum scored 37 seconds into overtime to give Chilliwack a 1-0 win over Seattle Tuesday night, the net result was two valuable points in the standings and a little momentum to start a six game road trip.

The Bruins hosted the slumping Seattle Thunderbirds at Prospera Centre, hoping for an easy time against a team that came into the game stuck in a 14-game tail-spin (14 losses, three in OT).

But Seattle gave the Bruins all they could handle, led by young netminder Calvin Pickard.

“We didn’t come out as hard as we wanted to, and that’s something we’ve got improve on,” Neigum said. “Giving them a point isn’t something we wanted to do, but we got two points, and that’s what we’re worried about.”

Shots were 28-27 in favour of Seattle, and scoring chances for either side were few and far between.

But the goalies were good when they had to be, making life miserable for the shooters.

“Pickard is outstanding and he keeps them in a lot of games,” Neigum said. “And when Gore’s hot, he’s hot and he was just as good as Pickard tonight.”

Midway through period two, Neigum burned Erik Bonsor on a beautiful outside-in move, and had Pickard at his mercy as he pulled the puck to his backhand. But his shot hit the right goal-post and stayed out.

“McKinlay made a nice play out of our D zone, and I had a little speed coming up the ice,” Neigum recalled. “I made a little toe-drag move to get around their D-man, but I was off balance on one leg when I shot and it just wouldn’t go in for me.”

Early in the third period, Ryan Howse had an even better chance with a clear-cut breakway from the red line in, but his shot sailed up and over the cross-bar.

Neigum’s winner was the direct result of solid forechecking by Brandon Manning, who rumbled in from the blueline and forced a turnover behind the Seattle net.

Neigum grabbed the puck and stuffed it on the backhand between Pickard and the right goal post.

“I really wanted to give it back to Manning on the back post, but I saw Pickard cheating off the right post, so I just stuffed it home,” Neigum explained.

The win all-but-officially buried Seattle’s fading playoff hopes. The Thunderbirds came into the game with a record of 14-34-5-4, trailing the Bruins by 19 points for the final playoff spot in the Western conference.

“We knew coming into this game that it was a must win,” Neigum concurred. “Nobody’s going to hand you two points in this league, but our coaches came up with a good game plan and we figured out a way to get it done.”

Chilliwack improved to 26-28-1-5 as they head out on a six game road trip through Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The trip starts Friday night in Swift Current and continues with games against Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Brandon and Moose Jaw.

Chilliwack doesn’t play another home game until Mar. 5 against Tri-City.

For Neigum, a native of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, the trip represents a return to his home province.

More importantly, it represents a chance for the Bruins to focus, collect some valuable points and try to improve their playoff positioning.

“This is a tough trip and we know that going out there,” Neigum said. “But we’re going to with our work boots and I think all the boys are looking foward to it.”

The trip has potential to be great, but it also has potential to be disastrous. In 2007-08, the Bruins went 0-5-1-0 and never fully recovered.

“We know we’ve got a good team and we’ve beaten a lot of great teams this year,” Neigum said enthusiastically. “We’ve got to believe in ourselves and our coaches and I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s a challenge for sure, but that’s why we play this game.”