The Ice Wolves rolled into the Battlefords looking for their fourth straight win and their 30th of the season. If they won, they would be the first team this season to reach the 30 mark and the first Ice Wolves team in franchise history to make it to that plateau.
The North Stars and Wolves have put on some great shows this season and their final meeting of the season was really no different. While most expected a lot of goals from the two highest scoring teams in the league, this wasn't the case. The powerplays decided this game with all three goals coming with the man advantage. The Ice Wolves got two of those three goals and set the new franchise record with a 2-1 win over the Battlefords.
Read on for the recap of Friday's game!
The North Stars came out very strong in the first, and after drawing a couple penalties early in the first found themselves outshooting the Wolves at around 7-1 before the halfway mark of the frame. Adam Bartko held the Ice Wolves in it making some solid saves and getting some help from his D in the clearing pucks department.
The Ice Wolves would start to bring the momentum back in their favour over the next few minutes, and when they went on their first powerplay the Wolves struck. Woody Klassen, who has played fantastic against La Ronge this year, made a risky do-or-die at the top of his zone. Not a good idea when the top three scorers in the SJHL are on the ice... Logan Herauf knocked down the puck and tossed it to Doug Lindensmith who cruised into the zone with Carre and Eggum. With two choices, Lindensmith picked Travis Eggum who squeaked a one-timer by Graham Hildebrand for his 42nd goal on the season.
The Ice Wolves' penalty kill was very good tonight, and with some help from Bartko, they nearly had a perfect night. After a brilliant shift from the Stars line of Galbraith, Wakelin and Oak (I apologize if I interchanged a player in there somewhere) which held the Wolves in their own end for 58 seconds, the North Stars went to the powerplay. After a couple opportunities the North Stars finally connected on a back-door play, and Keith Grondin beat Bartko, tying the game. It was Grondin's fourth in two games against the Ice Wolves. He provided all of the North Stars offence in the two games this week, and it was almost enough. Look for Grondin to get serious consideration as the player of the week, because he was great. Unfortunately for the North Stars, the offence from one player just wasn't enough.
The Ice Wolves would get onto the powerplay once again in the second period. With just under a minute and a half left in the second, Travis Eggum launched a puck on net. Hildebrand made the save but the puck was loose between his legs. Lindensmith found it before everyone else and poked the puck between Hildebrand's legs, giving the Ice Wolves the lead. By the way he celebrated the goal, you could see how much the Wolves wanted win number 30.
Though La Ronge grabbed the lead on the powerplay, it would be a frustration in the third. The Ice Wolves found themselves on a 5 on 3 opportunity, and once again, came up empty. They managed no shots in the time with the two man advantage. On the 5 on 4 after the 5 on 3 was done, the Wolves had numerous chances to score... but they didn't shoot. Multiple times, the Ice Wolves had Hildebrand down and sliding, but would make an extra pass to try for that pretty tuck-in play. During about a minute span, the big line passed on at least 3 shots that could have been goals. The Ice Wolves went 0/3 in the third period on the powerplay. When they had the opportunity to finish off the North Stars.
Battlefords would take advantage of the Wolves not being able to put the game away and come close multiple times to tying the game. Time was against them though. In the last minute, the Ice Wolves big line had what was their best shift of the game, holding the puck deep in the North Stars' end as they tried to get Hildebrand out of the net. They cut down about half of the time remaining on the clock and the Stars couldn't get into the La Ronge end to get a last chance.
The Ice Wolves came over the bench and mobbed Adam Bartko, every one of them knowing they had just set the franchise record. The excitement from the guys after the game was great to see. They had made it through one of the most gruelling stretches of the season for any team, and only lost one of the six games in eight nights. They put the pressure on the Mustangs to match them win for win to remain 4 points back when the games even out. This is an Ice Wolves team that is gearing for the playoffs and is looking more and more ready.
The result wasn't all good, though. In the third period, North Stars forward Samuel Fortier tossed Ice Wolf Ben Bula into the boards after a whistle. Justin Ducharme came in to jostle with Fortier, but Fortier was spinning to face the Wolves he knew would be coming. He got his hands up on Ducharme who spun off awkwardly into the boards, going knee first... He was down on the ice for a good length of time, and had to be helped off. He was on crutches after the game, so the prognosis is not good. We'll have to wait and see how long he will be out. If it's for any length of time, it's a huge loss for the Ice Wolves and continues the unfortunate season for Ducharme. He arrived with this team and looked to be one of the top scorers, but ended up sitting out 16 games from the Dommett hit. Now, he could miss more time, and it also breaks up the Wolves second line that was probably their best in Friday's game.
I want to talk a bit about the attendance in North Battleford. It was fantastic Friday night, just over 1,000 people were there to take in the game. A high scoring game would have been nice to give those fans a lot to cheer about, but they were treated to a very good late season game. This one maybe wasn't quite playoff calibre, but it was a great game as both teams fought for the win for their own important reasons. Having been in all the buildings, attendance hasn't been awesome this season, but it was great last night and I loved it. Kudos North Stars fans, and a the smattering of Wolves fans.
1. Adam Bartko - LR - 29 svs - The Ice Wolves goalie was excellent again on Friday. He held the team in early and made a couple brilliant saves late in the game to maintain the lead. He's starting to silence his critics and he's doing it in dominant fashion.
2. Doug Lindensmith - LR - 1 G, 1 A - Once again the SJHL's leading point-getter, Lindensmith came up huge tonight. Not only on the scoresheet, but with some hard work along the boards, he hampered the North Stars efforts late in the game.
3. Graham Hildebrand - BATT - 27 svs - Hildebrand made a couple of outstanding saves. I still think he got a stick on a Travis Eggum shot that looked like a sure goal, but either hit is stick or the post. He gave the Stars a chance to pull this one out. Could the North Stars' goaltending be starting to roll after Kyle Birch's great effort on Tuesday?
Next up for the Ice Wolves are the Flin Flon Bombers here in La Ronge. The game is on Tuesday night at the Mel. Ice Wolves fans, lets try to match that great attendance number in the Battlefords!
I'll have my preview for the game up the morning before the game.
Catch you then!