It's definitely a much better Monday after a pair of wins rather than a set of losses. The Wolves did a pretty solid 180 degree-flip from their road trip and looked a lot closer to the team fans thought they'd be seeing this season. After raising their 2011 Championship and Pennant Banners (5 in all) the Wolves went on to take it to their post-season nemesis, the Yorkton Terriers, by a combined 9-2 score over two games (4-0, 5-2).
The weekend was good for the Wolves in a couple ways. One, they scored more than two goals, which hadn't happened since the Wolves intrasquad game during training camp. Two, they played the type of game Bob Beatty wants to see and it paid off. Finally, they got some swagger back.
Last season, the Ice Wolves were a team that featured a certain swagger. It wasn't arrogant, just confidant. A feeling they could win every game they played, even if everything wasn't quite falling in their direction. Sure it helped having the scoring threats they did last season, but I think the confidence played a large part in that. With all of the changes in the off-season and players still figuring each other out, that swagger was decidedly lacking in the first six games of the season. It was especially evident on Saturday when the Terriers tied the contest twice. Each time the Ice Wolves struck back and didn't exhibit that deflation I saw on the road trip.
The biggest relief for Ice Wolves fans was when Aaron Enns popped the Wolves' third goal on Friday. It was a gorgeous marker too, as Enns stepped out in front, spun and roofed the puck over Warren Shymko. The Wolves have had so much trouble reaching that three goal plateau that it you could feel some of the pressure easing off the Wolves bench. I sit right above them, and wouldn't you know it, pressure rises (okay, that was bad). The goal was also Enns' second point of the contest as he finally found the back of the net. Something the Wolves need him to start doing on a regular basis. Jordan Ethier also got in on the scoring act, scoring a beauty on Saturday followed shortly by his second of the season. As he adjusts to the SJHL game, look for him to pick up his play. He was much better this weekend than when the Wolves were on the road. It was kind of the weekend for Wolves who couldn't get on the scoresheet to do so as Skyler Hladun picked up a couple of points, Pat Tran got two goals and the list goes on.
Graham Smerek and Nathan Boyer
Graham Smerek and Nathan Boyer continued their strong start to the season. Boyer picked up a goal and smacked a shot off the post. Smerek was especially strong on the penalty kill, creating a couple of shorthanded opportunities. Though he didn't pot them, any time he spends in the opposition's zone is time off the kill. I think you could see the Wolves put up some numbers shorthanded. There's a lot of speed on the PK with guys like Smerek, Boyer and Tran and they all have a knack for getting the puck on the forecheck. A lot of that is how hard they work which was a solid theme for the Wolves.
The team got the wins by laying the body on the Terriers and showing a lot of grit and tenacity. This is what Bob Beatty expects from his team. It was important for them to pick up these wins, because it will help the team buy into the coaching concept in the long haul. They've seen what happens when they don't adhere to the system, and that was a couple of blowouts and two more losses. When they ran through the strategy very well, they grabbed two wins in convincing fashion. It gives Coaches Beatty and Holloway something to point at as a success rather than just having the losses to look at.
Marc-Andre Carre really seemed to hit his stride at the Mel this weekend, which was great. Now he's off to continue building on that in Rio Grande with the Killer Bees. Tough luck for the Ice Wolves as he looked to be getting on a roll. It was a pleasure calling games with Carre involved, how can you not enjoy watching him do some of the things he can with the puck? Good luck in Rio Grande, Marc!
Alex Rajotte was very good on the weekend, how good? Well, the SJHL named him the Goalie of the Week after playing only two games. He stopped 74/76 Yorkton shots (0.974 Sv%) and I feel he was a major reason the Wolves won on Friday with some of the early stops he made on the Terriers. He was also key in helping the Wolves pull away in the second game on Saturday. With Rajotte playing like he is the Ice Wolves goaltending situation looks to be setting up nicely.
A couple of quick thoughts on the Terriers before I wrap it up. Though there are some physical players on that team, they seemed to be mismatched in that department. It was a decided advantage in the hits category for the Ice Wolves on the weekend and it took a toll on Yorkton.
The Terriers' goaltending was strong in both contests as both Shymko and Kamil Przeiorka held their team in the games. If not for them, the scores could have been pretty lopsided. Once again, it's a pretty good team in Yorkton and with some adjustments, they could be a contender once again.
Next up for the Wolves are the North Stars who visit the Mel on Wednesday. Last time out, La Ronge played its best game of the season (to that point) and got shut out 2-0 in the Battlefords. It will be a good game to see where the Wolves have progressed to after getting a couple more wins under their belt. The Stars will be coming in having played in Nipawin the night before. That will be a game to keep your eye on as two teams battling for the early Bauer Conference lead.
Only a few days away from the NHL season opening!