Coming into the weekend the Ice Wolves needed a couple of wins to attempt to put distance between themselves and Melfort. On the other side, Melville needed to gain some points on Notre Dame in a slightly more dire situation on the playoff bubble in the Sherwood Conference.
The Ice Wolves managed to come out with two wins, one a solid 5-2 win and followed it up with a not so solid 3-2 come from behind win.
This weekend was quite revealing about this Ice Wolves team as they get ready for the final ten games of the season.
I touched on the 5-2 win yesterday, but I'll get a little more in depth. It was pretty much a carry over from the last couple of games. The Wolves came out with three or four hits in the first minute or so and it got them to a rockin' start that resulted in an early goal from Marc-Andre Carre.
Zach Rakochy was spectacular on Friday, flat out excellent. Not quite Stephen Klein ridiculous from earlier in the season, but very good. The only reason this wasn't a double digit game for La Ronge was a couple of missed nets and a bunch of steals from Rakochy. I've said it a few times this weekend, Rakochy is the real deal and we could be seeing him as one of the premier goalies in the SJHL over the next few years.
Once again, even though the Wolves controlled the period, they came out tied after a nice powerplay goal by Tyson Newell, who picked up a rebound on the fly and launched it by Bartko.
The important thing for the Wolves is they weren't discouraged by the tie and just came out in the second the same way and dominated. More heroics by Rakochy couldn't keep the Wolves off the board in the second as they took a
3-1 lead into the third.
The Millionaires brought the game back within one goal early and looked poised to even it up, but Adam Bartko made a couple big saves and the stage was set for Phil Cliche. The Ice Wolves' 18 year old forward gave the Wolves back their two goal lead and then added to it, tipping a Dayton Fossum shot by Rakochy making it 5-2.
Overall it was a dominant effort from the Ice Wolves that made the difference in where these teams are in the standings evident. That wouldn't be the case on Saturday. (For the Three Stars check my previous blog post.)
The Millionaires were a much better team on Saturday night. I thought they played fine on Friday, but just couldn't keep up with the Wolves' relentless attack. Turns out I was wrong. Melville played much better on Saturday, the Wolves, did not.
It always seems like the Wolves go through three/four game cycles where they play very strong for two or three games and on the fourth or fifth, they seem to have a wire-disconnected where the passes are off and when passes don't work, players start to carry the puck too long. That was very much the case on Saturday as the Mill's frustrated the Wolves at every turn. The adjustments made before the game worked very well.
All of that said, it would be Carre opening the scoring once again with his 34th goal of the season on the powerplay. About five minutes later, the Mill's would tie it up. Lucas Froese with a nice high snap shot that beat Myles Hovdebo bringing the game even at one a piece, and that's how it would stand through one.
Hovdebo was very strong yet again tonight, making 37 saves and only allowing two. More than once he would raise a cheer from the great crowd at the JRMCC. As good as he was, it would be a weird goal from beside the net that gave Melville the lead in the second. To be honest I'm still not entirely sure how it went in. I think I may have briefly looked at my nachos selecting a delicious chip only to see the puck suddenly bounce behind Hovdebo and into the net. Weird play, but one of the few ways to beat the netminders tonight.
The Wolves came out in the third much better with their backs against the wall. Still trailing about halfway through the period it didn't look like they would muster a comeback though. Well, a convenient powerplay would help them out with that. As a puck came through a crowd from Travis Eggum, I'm pretty sure it caught a piece of a Millionaire and squeaked through Rakochy. Logan Herauf was waiting for the puck if it didn't go in, and he took a swipe, but it crossed the line first and Eggum picked up his 47th of the season. Make it 2-2 with only 8:17 left.
The Wolves very quickly went to another powerplay looking for the lead. The penalty came on a very valid tripping call against Melville. The problem came about 20 seconds into the man advantage when one of the Wolves brought down a Millionaire in almost the exact same play. Needless to say Mill's coach Jamie Fiesel wasn't too happy, but he had a point. Luckily the powerplay didn't affect the outcome. Would would affect the outcome was a great shift from the billet line of Skylar Hladun, Nathan Boyer and Graham Smerek. Grinding out another solid shift, the puck found its way to Robert Monfore who put it on net. The rebound went straight to Skylar Hladun and he took advantage of an empty net giving the Ice Wolves the lead.
Once they had it, the Wolves didn't give Melville too many opportunities and held them in their own zone for most of the final minute only allowing Rakochy to escape the confines of his net for about 10 seconds. Melville deserved a better fate on Saturday. The Wolves showed once again they have the skill to not play their best on a night and still come away with a win, but do they think Melfort or Flin Flon (who they face on Tuesday) will let them get away with that? Doubt it.
1. Skylar Hladun - LR - 1 G - Hladun scored the game winner and unloaded a monster check on Michael Sagen earlier in the game. The billet line continues to excel showing why the Ice Wolves are in good shape down the road.
2. Myles Hovdebo- LR - 37 Svs - Hovdebo came up large when called upon. He was victimized by a weird goal, but continued his great numbers as one of the top back-up netminders in the league.
3. Zach Rakochy - MELV - 44 Svs - His second appearance in the three stars in as many games. For Melville to make the playoffs and go anywhere in the post-season, he'll have to be a star every game.
The Wolves will have a couple of days to prepare for Flin Flon on Tuesday. The game goes at 7:30 at the Mel and the Ice Wolves will attempt to be the first team in the season series between Flin Flon and La Ronge to win a home game.
Have a great rest of the weekend, and enjoy the NHL All-Star Game if you're watching it!