It was a strong effort from the North Stars last night at the Civic Center and a real nice bounce back game after a frustrating loss on Sunday.
The Stars came out flying and the Betinol, Young and Long line really set the tone with a great first shift. That line had another strong game and it started right from the opening face off. Betinol was recently named the SJHL’s rookie of the week and he looked good again last night. But that line has looked better and better with the impressive play of Blake Young of late. He’s been dynamite. Travis Marit had a couple good chance in the opening period but both shots just missed the net glove side.
The Evans, McColgan and McMillen line was controlling the puck well along the boards and Braeden Johson looked quick and sharp in his first game back after missing a few games because he was sick. All in all I thought all 4 forward lines were very good last night and it all stemmed from a good first period. They all played to their strengths and the Stars were winning nearly every battle all over the ice.
Very early in the game one of the new Mustangs Preston Eshenko stepped up to try and hit Dillon Forbes in front of the North Stars bench. Forbes stood up to the hit and Eshenko was sent flying. It was a tough introduction to the SJHL for the former Whitecourt Wolverine.
Jesse Wilkins started in net for Melfort and he made several good saves including a really good pad save to stop Blake Young from scoring. Wilkins couldn’t stop Brody Luhning from scoring on the power play though. Luhning made a great move at the Melfort blueline to get by the Mustangs defense. Austin Evans was there to seize on the puck and get a shot away which was stopped. Luhning grabbed the rebound and calmly waited for Wilkins to dive across the net. Then Luhning popped the puck into net on the backhand to make it 1-0 Stars.
Casey Parker only had to make 7 saves in the first period and most were routine. But he did make a really good pad save on a low shot back across his body. Parker stopped his momentum and got his tow on the puck then stopped the rebound and covered up. The Stars turned the puck over at their own blueline late in the first period and had another turnover in the neutral zone. They were noticeable because the Stars had managed the puck so well up to that point. Those two little turnovers also foreshadowed the second period.
In the middle frame the Stars came out a little flat and the Mustangs came out with a better effort. Early in the period Ben Greenaway took a puck up high near his face. It looked painful and doubly annoying because he was offside at the time. the opening exchanges in the second were pretty scrambly which is how the Mustangs would have liked it. And they must have loved it when Godric Tham found himself at the side of the net with 3:55 gone in the second. Tham tipped a Jay Aasen point shot past Parker to make it 1-1.
In many ways the game up to that point was very similar to the Estevan game. The Stars dominant in the first but unable to pull away and the Mustangs getting stronger as the game wore on. But unlike that Estevan game the Stars responded last night very well. Midway through the period Casey Parker made a really good glove save to keep it tied at 1. And the North Stars started getting back to how they were playing in the first period. Shortly after that Parker save it was Braeden Johnson with a chance in front of the Melfort net. His backhand slid just wide. Ben Greenaway crushed Matt Saunderson with a good hit midway through the period. He also had a couple chances in the game to get away good wrist shots. He was robbed by Wilkins on one with 6:19 left in the middle frame. 31 seconds later the Stars were in front.
Blake Young has been burning up the wings the last few games using his great speed and strength to power to the net or swooping around the net to look for a pass. This time he gave the puck up to Brandon Long in the middle of the ice. Young continued on towards the net and Long found him with the return feed. The Stars forward made no mistake firing the puck under the arm of Wilkins to make it 2-1 Stars. 1:43 later it was 3-1. Luke McColgan flipped the puck off the glass and out of his own zone. It landed perfectly in the stride of Jake McMillen who was in alone. He faked the wrist shot and went back hand shelf. It was 3-1 Stars after 40 minutes of play. The shots were 26-16 Stars.
Late in the second the Mustangs did have a chance but Dillon Forbes made a good play to deflect the shot out of play. All of the Stars D pairs were better last night. I thought Ripley and Gosselin were really solid. Forbes was noticeable for his shot blocking. On the Mustangs third period power play goal Forbes had already racked up 2 good shot blocks before the goal. And Matt Sheeran and Joren Johnson improved as they get to know each other a little better. There was a turnover at the Melfort blueline on a Stars power play that led to a break away. But both Joren and Matt busted hard back to their own net to pester Brady Goebel and Parker made the save. Mistakes will happen from time to time, although I know the Stars will try to limit them as much as possible, and it was great to see guys not hanging their heads but working hard to regroup.
Jesse Wilkins was keeping his team in the game at this point. He couldn’t stop a Braeden Johnson shot from the slow after a nice set up by Quinn and Hall. But Wilkins did stop Tanner Quinn with a good save later in the period. Minutes later the Marit line had a couple chances. Robbie Newton fighting hard to get his stick on the puck in front. Wilkins denying the Stars captain. At the 9:46 mark of the period Blake Young had a great rush short handed and almost got the puck to the front of the net. That was the Stars first PK of the game and it came in the middle of the third period.
The Stars only took 2 penalties in the game and the second came on a tripping call against Josh Betinol. The Mustangs scored when Matt Saunderson had time to tee up a perfect slap shot over the glove of Parker and into the top corner. Betinol’s line had a real good shift after that goal to get the momentum back.
And Tanner Quinn was able to score an empty net goal after Robbie Newton had won a battle to get the puck out of his zone with less than a minute to go. Newton got some help but did a great job pushing the play up the wall taking the puck and some Mustangs with him.
Parker was solid down the stretch and ended up making 25 saves for the win. In the end I thought all 20 guys contributed to a solid win. The one thing the Stars will be looking at is how many chances they gave up to the Mustangs PK unit. The Stars power play looked pretty good moving the puck at times and did get a goal on 5 chances. But coach Hasselberg said after the game that they gave the Mustangs too many chances to try and score short handed.
Next up for the North Stars is a home and home with Kindersley. Game 1 is at the Civic Center on Friday night.