This was more of the game I was expecting for the Ice Wolves home opener on Friday. Very close game, tight checking, not a ton of scoring. I won't be surprised if the Wolves and Hawks play a few of these games this season, the teams are well matched.
Every game I've seen the Wolves in the regular season, they've improved considerably. It makes sense when you consider the fact that the Ice Wolves only played two pre-season games compared to other teams four or five. The Wolves are a few games behind the rest of the league in that respect and they're fighting the catch up. The D-Zone is becoming a much more unfriendly locale for the Wolves opposition and that's good to see.
The penalty kill looked fantastic tonight, killing off all seven Nipawin opportunities, including two 5-on-3 chances. I don't think I've ever said this before, but I actually had fun watching the Wolves work 5-on-3. The unit was very aggressive and made it no easy task for the Hawks attackers to enter the zone. Whether this will be the strategy every time out or not, I can't say, but it was fun to see tonight.
The powerplay wasn't bad, but it didn't score in a similar seven opportunities including a 5-on-3. The final two advantages the Wolves had were by far their best when they got a slew of good chances, but just couldn't find the back of the net, which was the issue tonight.
The Wolves got on the board first with Pavlo Zerebecky picking up his first SJHL goal. Jordan Ethier did some good work down in the corner maintaining control of the puck, and feathering the pass to Zerebecky who used his new found space and real estate to roof the puck over Stephen Klein who was half-way down or half-way up depending on your point of view.
A tough moment came for La Ronge about five minutes later when Nathan Boyer had a goal called back for goalie interference by Skyler Hladun. In his post-game interview, Ice Wolves Assistant Coach, Ron Holloway, said the team looked at the game film and didn't agree with the call, but that's the way she goes. Stephen Klein then proceeded to rob the Ice Wolves of goals on a couple of occasions. Which, if you remember the Wolves encounter with him before last season's Holiday Break, is becoming an alarming trend.
The teams battled very even for the rest of the first and all of the second and... you know what? It was a really even game. The equalizer came off the stick of Tad Kozun after Scott Bollefer lofted a puck to centre ice and watched the rest unfold. Kozun got a step on Alex Cameron which was all he needed. Cameron put in a valiant effort trying to knock the puck free, but Kozun made a nice backhand move to even the score.
Jared Iron (16) lines up for Anthem
The Ice Wolves came out busting in the third. They were gifted a powerplay right off the opening draw and were determined to make good on it. They got numerous chances, but just couldn't beat Klein or get a stick on the loose puck. Finish is going to be a very talked about topic with the Ice Wolves this season. It's great if the offence is getting the opportunities, but if the puck ain't in the net...
The dagger to the heart came when the Hawks had returned the momentum to the equilibrium that was the trend in the game. The Wolves defence was moving the puck, and then all of a sudden a back hand pass right into the slot. Dylan Meier said, "thank you very much," made a nifty back hand move, then shovelled it upstairs. A very tough way to go down a goal in a solidly played game. The Wolves were never really able to amount much in the way of attack after that point and Jesse Williamson's empty netter sealed the deal.
Once again, Alex Rajotte was very good in net for the Ice Wolves. He brings a lot of poise and confidence to the position and as Lorne said a couple of times in the post game show, just looks very comfortable between the pipes for the Ice Wolves.
Three Stars - As selected by Lorne Hill
1. Tad Kozun (F) - NIP - GWG
2. Alex Rajotte (G) - LAR - 31 Svs
3. Scott Bollefer (D) - NIP - Strong defence and physical play
The Ice Wolves face off with the Humboldt Broncos Wednesday night. It's a matchup I'm excited to see, for the same reason Ron Holloway wants to see it. A chance for the Ice Wolves to measure themselves against a team that's supposed to be 'top dog' in the SJHL this season.
It's also my first chance to see some of these players the Broncos have brought in from the MJHL and other leagues. So it should be an interesting affair. The Wolves are definitely on the right track with how they're going. They're going to be tough to score goals on and they are going to be a sandpaper team in their own end. The offence will likely work itself out as players fill into their roles with the team, but it's something that will be a focus. No time like the next game though, right?
In net, Myles Hovdebo will likely get his first action of the season. He was nursing an injury in the early going and with Alex Rajotte available, why would you rush Hovdebo? He's healthy now, and I'm sure, itching to prove himself in the Wolves net.
I'll have the pre-game show for you at 7:15 tomorrow and the puck drops at 7:30. I'm flying solo for tomorrow's broadcast at the moment, so it may be time for another Ice Wolves commentator to get his first crack at broadcasting. Bob Beatty isn't the only one in La Ronge developing future talent. Okay, so I'm not really developing the talent so much as dropping them in the swimming pool and seeing if they float or sink. Either way, should be almost as interesting as the game itself, okay, not really.
We'll see if the Ice Wolves can get themselves back to .500 on the young season.