The seemingly never ending battle for the Wolves to bring their record above .500 finally ended this weekend. Obviously they can fall back below again and the season still has a very good portion left over, but this is a milestone for a team that twice sat four games below the even mark.
They've overcome a seven game road losing streak in the early going and now sit 4-8 away from La Ronge while sporting a very impressive 7-2 record at home. They've also won six straight games at the Mel Heglund Uniplex when you factor in that two of their 'home' games were away from the Mel.
So lets take a look back at the weekend and find out how the Wolves accomplished a mission dating back to the first weekend of the season.
Before I really get into it, I've got to say I love that Ice Wolves brought back the "Seventh Man" where they have a kid go out with the team. I realize this is done all over the place, but if I remember the other ones I've seen, the Wolves are the only team to announce the height and weight of the kids. It's a lot of fun and the crowd always gives the kids a big cheer.
By the end of the weekend, the Wolves could have played little Kendon Skalicky (Sunday's 7th Man) because their bench was so short. As it was, they called up Jason Duret ('95) from the PA Mintos to ice enough bodies. How'd it get to that point? Well, 40 seconds into Friday's contest against Kindersley, Brodie Eisbrenner was put head-first into the boards by Jordan Hoffman. That kicked off quite the fracas which went something like this.
-Hoffman hits Eisbrenner from behind
-Hoffman takes a punch from the blind side by Brett McNevin, stick gets in there too. The only reason I hesitate to call it a cross-check is he led with his fist. Result was probably the same, though the intent wasn't to cross check.
-Hoffman is now down on the ice bleeding from the hit and three fights erupt
-Aaron Enns and Zane Morin square off and are designated the 'first fight' by the referee so neither are tossed from the game
-McNevin and Brett Hope end up in tilts with Justin Lund and Chris Manhas
-All four are given Majors and tossed, as is Hoffman for the check from behind. It was originally listed as a fighting major and adjusted later by the referee.
-It took about 20 minutes to sort all of this out which led to Justin McDonald and Alex Rajotte playing some catch down the ice with the puck and Rajotte getting perched up on his net.
The good news is it will be broadcast on Access 7 Wednesday night as the Game of the Week, so you can see for yourself. I'll probably be PVR'ing the game mainly so I can take a look at some of the stuff that went on a couple more times. Suspensions were handed out to both teams as the Coaches missed one game. Hope, McNevin, Lund and Manhas all got two game suspensions. Hoffman has missed two games as a result of the McNevin hit, but from Brenden Ullrich it sounds like he'll be back in the lineup for Kindersley's next game. So good to see he won't miss a lot of time because of that, but I'm a little surprised Hoffman didn't get any suspension time.
I'm not going all torch and pitchfork here, Hoffman is a very good hockey player and he's one of the Klippers captains with good reason. He made a mistake on the hit, and it happens. However with how the culture in the game of hockey is changing, I'm surprised there isn't a multi-game suspension out of it. Five years ago, I wouldn't be expecting any more than he got, 5 and a game, but with the profile on the hits from behind in the last few years it's surprising. It doesn't help the situation that Eisbrenner has a concussion and could miss significant time.
All of that and we're just done forty-seconds of the first game of the weekend!
Surprisingly, there were no more fireworks between the Klippers and Ice Wolves for the rest of the game. It seemed like both teams understood that enough was enough and they may have had some of that direction from their coaches. That said, I wouldn't expect their next meeting to be all that friendly.
Both the Ice Wolves and Klippers played a solid game that looked a lot like their game a few nights earlier. Pat Tran got the Wolves on the board first with a late goal, only to have Taylor Duzan snipe the game even early in the second.
The Wolves shut Kindersley down from there, only allowing 17 shots in the final two periods while picking up a couple goals in the second period to work out the win and pull to 10-and-10 on the season. Alex Rajotte was great in net again as he continues to assail the goaltenders leaderboard. There could be another goalie of the week honour headed his way and at least a guaranteed honourable mention. Justin McDonald was stellar for the Klippers who don't keep this game close without him. The Wolves were peppering the Kindersley net as they seem to do on home ice.
As someone that watched La Ronge on the road and at home every game, it's astonishing to see the difference. They are dominant on the small ice and with their two month homestand on the way, we could see the Ice Wolves start to climb the standings.
On to Sunday night and a game the Ice Wolves were fortunate to win.
They actually played very well against a Notre Dame team on the tail end of a three-in-three road trip through the North. The Hounds were opportunistic, though, as you need to be in this kind of road trip. They used a couple of odd man rushes to get up 2-0 on the Ice Wolves. Dillon Schwartzenberger got Myles Hovdebo down in front and managed to just slide the puck under his pad, while Greg Ferguson got in all alone after a nice feed from Ben Morgan. Ferguson pulled a beautiful backhand move to beat Hovdebo and give the Hounds a 2-0 lead.
The Ice Wolves came out absolutely dominant in the second period, scoring twice in the frame. One off a five on three and some nice passing to get Pat Tran his second in as many games and the other off a Franklin Cook point blast. Under a minute later, though, a broken play that just got weird ended up with Todd Christian picking up the Hounds go-ahead goal. I'm still not entirely sure what went down, just that Hovdebo was sliding all over the place but never really seemed to find the puck after Christian fired it wide and got it back off the back boards. It was another situation that the Ice Wolves gave up a tying or go ahead goal right after scoring one of their own. In a period they dominated, that could have been a back breaker.
In the third period, the Hounds were clearly out of gas, but put forward a gutsy effort. The Ice Wolves just kept coming, though and Jordan Ethier evened the game on his second goal of the weekend and third point of the evening.
The Ice Wolves dodged a bullet on another odd man break. Todd Christian made a great move to get in on Hovdebo and make a play at the net. Hovdebo stopped him at which point the puck disappeared and some jamming went on. The goal light came on and the referee signalled goal. The Ice Wolves argued the call vehemently and a conference was called, including the goal judge and the ruling was overturned much to my surprise. I honestly don't know what the right call on the play was, just surprised it actually got overturned. The Ice Wolves took advantage of their luck and scored their second powerplay goal of the evening courtesy of a David Greyeyes rocket from just over the blueline that hit a Hounds stick and deflected into the goal. The Wolves would hold on from there for the 4-3 win, putting 57 shots on goal in the process. Ty Reichenbach was obscenely good for Notre Dame as they could have been out of the game in the second period if not for his effort.
A couple of guys got back in the lineup for La Ronge, including one of the goal scorers. Scott Helmkay and David Greyeyes both saw action. Greyeyes was a powerplay specialist as the Wolves try to ease him back into the lineup and his effect was immediate. The powerplay looked infinitely more dangerous with him on the line and he could be the spark that gets the Ice Wolves man advantage rolling. Helmkay's minutes went up as the weekend progressed and you can see the potential in the smooth skating youngster. Now that he's back in the lineup, expect to see him improve each night as he adjusts to the SJHL game, something he's a little behind on due to the injuries. Their returns are timely for the Wolves as Alex Vandenameele sustained an upper body injury on Sunday and he could miss some extended action, though that wasn't known for sure after the game.
Jason Duret played well for the Wolves in his action on Sunday. As a young call up, he did pretty much all he could in his one game with La Ronge. I doubt Bob Beatty would have a problem giving him another look should the Ice Wolves need to fill out the roster again and this is a kid that could be finding his way into the lineup in the next couple of years.
I was very impressed with one of the patchwork lines this weekend. The line of Ethier, Hladun and Enns was pretty dominant at times against the Hounds and Klippers. The size on that trio is impressive and not something you often find in a grouping at the Junior-A level. To go with the size, there's enough skill and speed to really cause some problems. It will be interesting to see if that line stays together once Nathan Boyer returns to the lineup or if the Wolves go back to the Boyer/Hladun/Smerek grouping.
Overall a good weekend for the Wolves as they continue to shake off their slow start to the year.
Next up, the Weyburn Red Wings for a pair of games this weekend.