The Battlefords North Stars scored twice in the first frame and it was just enough as they managed to hang on for a 2-1 win over the Notre Dame Hounds.
The first period was the Stars best of the night by far as they got off to a good start. Just 43 seconds into the first the Stars got a power play when Troy Murray went off for a trip. The power play didn’t last long however as Tanner Schwab ended up in the box after a too many men on the ice penalty. The Stars first unit power play went off the ice 52 seconds into the power play and they were replaced by 6 skaters. It took me a moment to realize why the whistle had been blown and what call was being made. So very early on in the game the Stars and Hounds got to play a little 4 on 4 hockey. Mitch Boucher set up perhaps the best chance of the 4 on 4 play when his cross ice pass forced Graham Hildebrand into a good save. The Stars then went short handed briefly after Murray returned to the ice.
The Hounds first power play of the game last just 1:08 and they weren’t able to get much going. Out of the box Tanner Schwab was found by Ryne Keller for a break away. On the broadcast I said it was Newton who made the pass. That’s a bit of a blunder. It’s gotta be hard to confuse Keller with Newton. None the less Schwab was in alone on Matthew Smidt and made no mistake snapping it past the blocker for his 11th of the season.
The Stars doubled their goal output a little later in the period when Tim Rollins skated into the Hounds zone down the right wing. He wristed one on net that somehow beat the Hounds goalie between his arm and his body. It wasn’t a great goal but shows why coaches like it when players shoot the puck. Get it on net because anything can happen. That goal ended up being the game winner. Now leading 2-0 the Stars had a power play that I still can’t believe didn’t end up with a goal. Jordy Sealey was tonight’s power play contestant and would have picked up a pizza from 2 for 1 family pizza if not for Smidt, a couple of Hounds D men, some luck and who knows what else. The puck was actually loose in the blue paint 3 times during the power play. So somehow the Stars lead was just 2 after the first period. Both teams were 0-2 on the power play in the frame.
In the second the Hounds came out of the gates quickly. They forced the Stars back onto their heals a little but I would imagine the Stars players would not be happy with how they played in that second frame. Midway through the second and the shots in that period were 5-1 Hounds. Thanks to the strong play of Graham Hildebrand in the Stars net the score was still 2-0 Stars when the Hounds hit a post and a crossbar in the space of about 2 minutes. With 4:09 left in the second coach Hasselberg had seen enough and called his timeout. The Stars responded pretty well to whatever was said on the bench as they closed out the period with some strong play. Tim Rollins even had a great chance for his second of the game as he was alone at the side of the net but the puck hopped over his stick. It would have been a tap in for Tim to score his 14th of the year but perhaps the bad ice at the end of the period was to blame for a bouncing puck.
So it was still 2-0 Stars after 2 periods in large part to some luck and some great goaltending. In the third the Hounds continued to play solid hockey limiting the Stars to just 4 shots in the frame. But again as much as the Hounds were doing well the Stars will feel they weren’t doing enough well. A bad backcheck 5 mintes into the period led to perhaps the best chance of the game up to that point for the Hounds. Catlin Folye is a big body and not the fastest skater so the fact he wasn’t picked up as he went to the front of the net will be disappointing for the Stars. Foley redirection on his backhand side rolled wide and the Stars dodged a bullet. 2:30 minutes later and the Stars should have taken a 3 goal lead. Blake Tatchell made a nice move just inside Hounds territory and set up Braeden Johnson at the side of the net. The back door feed gave Johnson all kinds of open net to shoot at but again the puck went over a Stars stick and the chance was gone. Robbie Newton had another good chance not long after that but missed high and wide on the blocker side.
Just when you thought Graham Hildebrand was going to pick up his league leading 5th shutout the Hounds got a bit of a break to get within a goal. The Hounds had been playing pretty well so who is to say they hadn’t earned that break as a shot from Ben Morgan, who had been given far too much room in the attacking zone, hit Travis Sparrow in front and deflected passed Hildebrand. It looked like the Stars net minder had the shot covered and was about to blocker it away into the corner. It was certainly harsh on Hildebrand who was excellent and perhaps the reason the Stars ended up winning the game.
The Hounds had a chance late with an offensive zone faceoff and their net empty but Kyle Hall made a good play at the side of the net and eventually the Stars were able to see out the last few seconds of the game. It wasn’t pretty and again I didn’t think the Stars played very well but they got the 2 points and a road win in Wilcox.
In my opinion the Stars need to start getting it cranked up here as we make our way through the final stretch of the season. This team was put together for a run at a championship and this season will be judged based on what happens in the postseason. But it would sure be nice to go into the post season on a nice run. The Stars have a chance tomorrow night to make it 2 of 3 on this Southern road trip. A win would also move the Stars to wins in 5 of their last 6 games. That would be a nice base from which to launch an assault on the rest of the season.
Mike Feeney’s Unsung Hard Working Player of the Game:
Kyle Hall. Won a couple of key faceoffs in his own zone late. Blocked a pass at the side of the net in the last few seconds as well. Overall I thought he looked sharp again. Kyle’s speed is a real weapon at both ends of the ice and he along with Tagoona and Schwab/Ethier looked pretty strong at times.
Join me tomorrow night as the North Stars face some former team mates in Estevan. Pucks drops at 6pm with the SaskTel pregame show on CJNB/CJNS starting at 5:45. You can also tune in online at http://www.cjnb.com