By Darryl G. Smart
Brantford 99ers head coach Dan Fitzgerald and his team knew Thursday’s Ontario Junior Hockey League game at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre was probably the biggest of the season.
With a myriad of playoff scenarios up in the air, Jacob Ball’s goal with three minutes left to play in regulation, and Jake Partridge burying the empty-netter gave the 99ers a 5-3 win over the Buffalo Jr. Sabres (Official).
With the win, the 99ers (28-24-0-1) are tied with the Georgetown Raiders Jr. A Hockey (24-20-4-5) with 57 points each for the fourth and final playoff spot in the OJHL’s West Division.
That’s where things get mathematical.
On Saturday, the 99ers finish the regular season on the road against the Mississauga Chargers at 7:45pm, while the Raiders do the same at home against the Oakville Blades Junior A Hockey Club at 7:30pm.
If the 99ers tie the Raiders in points for fourth place in the West Division, there will be a play-in game between the two teams. If the 99ers win they play in the West Division playoff bracket.
If the 99ers lose that play-in game but still have more points than the Markham Royals, who are in fourth place in the North Division, there will be a play-in game between those two teams. If the 99ers win that game, they will play in the North Division playoff bracket.
If the 99ers outright finish in fifth place in the West Division, but still have more points than the Royals, the two teams will play a play-in game.
The only way the 99ers miss the playoffs altogether, is if they finish behind the Raiders and Royals.
The Raiders have a 24-23-0-5 record and have 53 points with a home game Friday against the Stouffville Spirit, before finishing up Saturday on the road against the Wellington Dukes.
On Thursday, Nick McHugh and Michael Palandra got the 99ers going in the first period.
Kyle Bollers scored his OJHL leading 38th goal of the season to increase the lead early in the second period.
Alex Stints responded later in the frame for the Jr. Sabres.
In the third period, the Jr. Sabres battled back, thanks to goals from Colby Seitz and Seth Benson, before Ball and Partridge pulled the 99ers ahead for good.
Colton Incze had another big game between the pipes for the 99ers, making 28 stops.