Stars live to fight another day

The North Stars put in perhaps their best performance of the season last night in the biggest game of the season to force a game 6 tomorrow night in Nipawin. The final score was 4-1 with an empty netter.

I had a chance to talk with the Stars coaching staff before the game as they were picking who they wanted to start the game. They ended up going with Klassen and Luhning on the back end. Up front a new look line as Braeden Johnson and Blake Tatchell were put back on a line together and they were joined by Boyd Wakelin. There were reasons that the coaching staff chose that line to start and that D pair to start the game. And they were bang on the money. That was one of the best shifts of the game and boy did it set the tone. The Stars had the puck in the attacking zone for about 70 seconds. They threw some hits, won some battles and got some shots (although they didn’t show up on the shot clock for some reason) and the rest of the team followed that shift up with strong effort after strong effort.

(update I just got an email from Shawn who was working the time keepers bench last night at the game. He was the one counting shots last night. I didn’t realize the shots were counted by the time keepers. As Shawn rightfully pointed out ice level is not the best place to count shots as there are lots of bodies in the way at times. I was under the impression the goal judges with a better view were the ones counting shots. In Nipawin that’s who is in charge of that job. Had I known that info, and I probably should have, I wouldn’t have criticized the shot totals in the manner that I did. Thanks for the email Shawn and keep up the great work!)

The strong play managed to draw a penalty against Dan Skilliter for tripping. The Stars couldn’t convert on the power play but the continued to dominate the period. I thought Dillon Forbes was excellent in the first period showing great strength and determination along the walls to win battles. He also had 3 or 4 shots in the first period and was heavily involved in the play. But then I could name every player on the Stars and talk about how strong they played. It was a total team effort.

Connor Creech got the start for the Stars in net. A bold decision as it meant 20 year old goalie Graham Hildebrand would watch from the sidelines. Had the Stars lost they would have done so with one of the league’s top tenders on the bench. But then Connor Creech is also one of the league’s top tenders though and it was the right decision. Creech made one real good save in the first when he fought off a Ryan Ostertag shot with his shoulder. So there was no score after the first period.

The Stars needed to open the scoring and get some reward for their strong effort. They got it when Robbie Newton fanned on a dump in. He was skating up the right wing in front of his own bench when the puck rolled on him. Newts stayed with it and recovered the puck. It made it’s way over to Woody Klassen who blasted it past Davis Jones. The Hawks responded quickly when the puck broke to Wheaton King who went in on a 2 on 1 with Justin Waskewitch. King was able to get around a sprawling Stars D man, Kachur I think, and set up Washewitch. That tied it at 1 and came just 1:14 after the Stars opened the scoring. That’s the Hawks style at it’s best. Block shots, get good saves from Davis Jones, play a little possum at times and then hit teams quickly on the counter attack. The Stars continued to dominated the game though and eventually got the lead back. Braeden Johnson was behind the net and trying to pass the puck out front. It hit a Hawks D man and went in behind Davis Jones. A lucky break for the Stars but maybe their strong play deserved it. Plus Johnny was a little snake bitten late in the season and couldn’t buy a break. It was nice to see him get one. That goal came midway through the second.

The Stars made it 3-1 later in the frame when Johnson and Tatchell set up Boyd Wakelin in front. How he got to be that wide open is beyond me and very surprising. Wakelin just threw one on net and then popped home his own rebound still with no Hawks D man to be seen in the area. So 3-1 heading to the third. The shots were listed as 23-16 but that in no way reflects the flow of the play. The Stars were monopolizing the puck in the first 40 minutes.

The second frame also featured what may be a series changing save by Connor Creech. A Nipawin Hawk found himself alone out front and took a pass from behind the net, I apologize for not remembering who it was that got the chance, and Creech got a glove on the shot. That save came when the game was still 2-1 and the Hawks had a great chance to tie the game. They didn’t though because of Creech and after the game Coach Hasselberg said that save gave the Stars belief that things were starting to go their way. Not long later it was 3-1.

The 3rd period was a little more even as the Hawks pressed to try and get back in the game but the Stars D and Creech were good. The Stars also killed off 2 third period penalties. It was a strange game from the Refs to be honest. They let a lot go in the first and second periods calling just 2 penalties but then called 3 penalties in the third. It’s usually the other way around. None the less the Stars PK was good and the Hawks went 0-3 on the PP. Late in the game the Stars were short handed as Brody Luhning sat for 2 minutes. The Hawks pulled their goalie and had a 6 on 4 advantage but were unable to score. Moments after Luhning returned Tim Rollins skated the puck over the red line, a key play, and fired it in deep. I’m not sure if he cared if it hit the empty net or not. It didn’t but Kyle Hall won the race to the loose puck and slid it home sealing the 4-1 win.

Hall’s line with Ethier and Miller were good and Hall got some deserved reward with that goal. Rollins unit as well. The Stars whole team pulled in the same direction last night and they dominated the game. A deserved victory. But as Coach Hasselberg said after the game the hard work is just starting. Game 6 will be the toughest game the Stars players have ever been involved in.

The Hawks are so good on home ice and they won’t want to come back to the Civic Center for a game 7. So they will lay everything out on the line. The Stars will have to do the same. One thing in their favour? The Hawks are starting to look a little tired. Their D has taken a lot of hits this series as the Stars have spent a lot of time dumping pucks in and going after them. The Hawks have also blocked a lot of shots and some of their guys have played a ton of minutes. Are they getting worn down? Maybe. But you know they will still give it everything they’ve got to clinch the series on home ice tomorrow night.

I will have the call for you live on CJNB/CJNS starting with the SaskTel pregame show at 5:45. The puck drops at 6pm.

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