This weekend was a tale of two different Ice Wolves teams. One lost handily on home ice to start the season, and one bounced back to take a solid win on the road.
Unfortunately for the fans in La Ronge, the Nipawin Hawks rolled in with something to prove. This season is all about developing a culture of winning in Nipawin and a new attitude with the Hawks. They took that run and gun attitude and took it to the Wolves up and down the ice.
The Wolves just didn’t seem ready for the Hawks to play like they did. From puck drop, La Ronge was disorganized in its own end, leaving goalie, Alex Rajotte, in some very tough positions. Despite this, he performed reasonably well despite allowing seven goals in the loss.
The offence was in better shape than the defence, but finish was an issue as concern grows that it may be that way for the foreseeable future. One post and two goal line rollers were all that stood between the Ice Wolves and possibly a different outcome, or at least a more favourable score.
They melee that went down in the second period was, interesting to say the least. After Marc-Andre Carre slid into Davis Jones on a rush, he took a shot from one of the Hawks and that was it. Gloves were flying fists were everywhere and the officials were overmatched. Even Carre got in on the action which was a dangerous choice considering his short time in La Ronge and training camp with Rio Grande on the horizon. It was good to see everyone sticking up for each other, though I feel some players went overboard in their zeal. I’ll use that as the ‘political’ phrasing and leave it at that. Regardless, it lit a fire in the Ice Wolves and they almost got back in the game after that point.
The Hawks survived the push, it helps when there’s already a four goal lead on the board. Then they locked it down and tossed a couple daggers into the Wolves comeback hopes to wrap it up. Nipawin didn’t play a perfect game, but for a season opener on the road, it may as well have been. The defence turned over too many pucks to the wrong players, which led to the Ice Wolves second goal, and Davis Jones was somewhat shaky in net. However, Jones also showed flashes of brilliance making some flashy saves.
We’ll see how the season progresses for the Hawks and if this team is for real. Last night they rolled by Flin Flon, so the early outlook is pretty positive for Nipawin.
With such a heavy handed loss in their rearview mirror, the Ice Wolves needed a solid showing in Melfort. That’s exactly what they brought. It wasn’t dazzling, but the 2-0 win got the job done and showed heavy improvement in the defensive zone.
From the outset, the Ice Wolves seemed a much more determined and focused team, supplying early pressure. This resulted in a powerplay, giving David Greyeyes the chance to shine once again. He was very good in the home opener, and tonight was no different as he picked up the game winner with a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.
That would be all the offence the Ice Wolves would need with Alex Rajotte bouncing back to the fullest. A 28 save shutout is just the thing to help a goalie forget about a rough outing and the confidence from that going forward will be huge. Rajotte was one of the key difference makers for the Ice Wolves tonight with some fantastic saves and some very strong situational play with the puck.
The Mustangs were a little starved for offence in the game, especially with Brendan Tash out of the lineup. Landon Belchamber was strong for Melfort, bringing some offensive creativity as well as Tyler Fauchoux. When those two hit their stride, the Mustangs and their fans will be enjoying decent production from those players.
Scott Helmkay tries commentary
No doubt Bob Beatty would much rather have come out of opening weekend 2-0 with at least a share of first place, but I think he’ll be pleased to be an even 1-1. Especially after Friday’s loss.
Now the Wolves get to prepare for the Hawks knowing a little more of what to expect as they head to the Cage on Tuesday to kick off a four game road trip.
The team chemistry looked stronger against the Mustangs, and as Coach Beatty said in his pre-game interview tonight, it’s going to be an ongoing process getting this team to where it should be.
1. Alex Rajotte (G) - LAR - 28 Svs/SO
2. David Greyeyes (D) - LAR - GWG
3. Jesse Ehnisz (G) - MELF - 31/32 Svs
I’ll have the broadcast from Nipawin on Tuesday starting off with the CanAqua Pre Game show at 7:15 and puck drop at 7:30. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!