Thursday was a bad day for Provo sports fans. First, BYU lost in the first round of March Madness. Then, the Provo Predators lost 5-1 to the Idaho Falls Spud Kings.

For Idaho Falls sports fans, on the other hand, Thursday was one of the most triumphant nights of the year. It took the Spud Kings until the last game of the regular season before they clinched a playoff spot — but they got it done with Thursday’s win over the Predators.

The Idaho Falls Spud Kings beat the Provo Predators 5-1 on Thursday night.

The Idaho Falls Spud Kings beat the Provo Predators 5-1 on Thursday night. Photo credit: Hannah Brown

“Two months ago, I don’t think people thought that this was gonna be where we were, but those kids in that locker room, man, they bought in,” said Spud Kings head coach John Becanic after the game.

Becanic was an integral part of the Spud Kings’ revival. He took over the team in January, when the playoffs were out of the question in the players’ minds. Now, they’re a reality.

The game

Five minutes into the first period, Predators forward Jonathan Doucette capitalized on a strange bounce, putting his team up 1-0. The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Owen Pitters put the Spud Kings on the board with a powerplay goal just over two minutes later.

The Spud Kings would add two goals before the end of the period, followed by another pair of goals in the second period. Both teams dialed it back a bit in the third, eventually running out the clock to end it with a score of 5-1.

“We were all pretty pumped up today,” said Spud Kings defenseman DJ MacLeish, who scored a goal and two assists. “We came ready to play. There were smiles in the locker room, and then right when it was go-time, we were dialed in.”

Pitters gave some insight into the dedication it took to win.

“Everybody put their balls on the line there and came through,” he said.

Owen Pitters scored two goals and an assist in the Idaho Falls Spud Kings’ 5-1 win over the Provo Predators on Thursday night.

Owen Pitters scored two goals and an assist in the Idaho Falls Spud Kings’ 5-1 win over the Provo Predators on Thursday night. Photo credit: Hannah Brown

Goals on goals

In Wednesday’s game against the Predators, the Spud Kings didn’t find the back of the net until the third period was halfway over, losing 2-1. On Thursday, while playing the same team, they scored five goals — all of which came in the first two periods.

What changed?

Becanic showed his team a clip from the movie Champions. In the movie, a basketball player with special needs is known for shooting the ball backwards. In the five years that his teammates have been with him, they’ve never even seen him hit the rim — much less score.

“So he’s due for one,” the coach responds in the movie.

“I showed the guys the clip today saying, ‘Guys, we’re due to score. At some point, it’s gonna go in,’ Becanic said. “We were fortunate tonight it happened.”

Pitters, who scored two goals in the game, talked about pre-scouting as a major factor in his team’s ability to put the puck in the net. They watched a lot of video on Predators goaltender Michael Polston, singling out his weakest spot.

Polston would leave the game after allowing the fifth goal, just after the halfway mark of the second period.

Ryan Henry replaced Michael Polston in net midway through the second period.

Ryan Henry replaced Michael Polston in net midway through the second period. Photo credit: Hannah Brown

Especially special

Becanic is a well-traveled coach. He has made stops in eight leagues across North America since he started in the 1981-82 season. He’s experienced everything from winning the Memorial Cup to getting let go mid-season. Even with all his experience, having coached on much bigger stages than this, he’s still thoroughly enjoyed his time coaching the Spuds.

“This is special for me in a different way,” Becanic said. “I fell in love with the players so quickly because they cared. When you have a group of kids that care, and then you start to see them caring about each other, and then we started caring about being a team, this is a unique experience — I have not experienced this before.”

Becanic also appreciated the dramatic side of clinching the playoffs in the final game of the season.

“This could have been solved long ago, but, I mean, is there a better way to win it than the last game of the regular season in front of a sold-out crowd?” Becanic said.

What’s next?

As the fourth-seed team, the Spud Kings will face the first-seed Ogden Mustangs in the first round of the playoffs. It will be a best-of-five series, meaning the first team to win three games moves on.

The playoffs start on Friday, March 29. The Spud Kings will play on the 29th and the 30th in Ogden, followed by a home game on April 1. If extra games are necessary, they will occur on April 3 in Idaho Falls and April 5 in Ogden.

The winner of the Mountain Division will go on to play the winners of the other two divisions for the Dineen Cup.