For the second game in a row, the Ice Wolves were in a battle that took on a decidedly playoff-ish feel.
First it was a 3-2 overtime win in Estevan, next it was the Wolves' 4-3 victory over the North Stars at home. The two teams left everything on the ice, much to the delight of the fans at the game. The ovation from the fans as time ticked down, was as loud as any the Ice Wolves have received this season.
Read on for the full recap of the game.
La Ronge started quick out of the gates putting up two goals by the midway point of the first period. Opening the scoring was Logan Herauf, who just knew where to be. Justin Ducharme did a lot of the work in the corner, then fired a bullet pass to Herauf who made no mistake putting the puck behind North Stars goalie, Kyle Birch. The second goal came from Doug Lindensmith on the powerplay on a similar play. This time it was Marc-Andre Carre coming out of the corner and throwing a puck on net. Lindensmith picked up the rebound and threw it into the net, make giving the Wolves a two goal edge.
The Stars would answer back in the form of a Keith Grondin hat-trick over the first and second period. Which leads me to the question, if you score three in a row over two periods, is it still a natural hat-trick? I'll say yes, and that's what Grondin did... in versatile fashion too. First, he was the beneficiary of a 4-on-1 down low after a giveaway at the top of the Ice Wolves zone. The even strength goal made it 2-1. He followed that with a powerplay marker three minutes later to tie the game at two. He would give the Stars a lead early in the second.
I keep on saying that the Ice Wolves have the ability to give up shorthanded goals at the worst possible instant, and the Ice Wolves haven't scored on a 5-on-3 opportunity for a while now. What happens when you put those two oft repeated tidbits? Keith Grondin's third of the game on a shorthanded 3-on-1 rush right after the Stars killed off a Wolves 5-on-3. Hows that for momentum swing?
Doug Lindensmith would take away some of the stubbed toe feeling for the Ice Wolves. As the regular powerplay continued (as a result of the North Stars being assessed three penalties) Lindensmith jammed the puck behind Birch and brought the Ice Wolves back to even. Before you go to the SJHL game summary page and tell me Doug's goal was not on the powerplay, the penalties were entered in wrong so the computer program didn't put it on the PP.
With the score tied, focus was squarely on the netminders, who had already been fantastic this game. Bartko and Birch put on a show with both making huge saves. Birch was the flashier of the two going down into the splits a couple times to rob Ice Wolves snipers. Bartko made a spectacular lunging save late in the second to keep the game tied. When all was said and done, Bartko made 38 saves on 41 shots, while Birch made 35 on 39. Coach Beatty likes how his goalie has been playing.
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With about six minutes left in the second, Cris Neurater levelled the BOOM on Marc-Andre Carre. It was a great, clean hit, but you don't demolish one of the leading point getters in the SJHL without drawing attention. In this case, the attention came in the form of a Mack Truck, I mean Travis Eggum, running over Neurater and unloading punches to the downed North Star Captain. Running over may be a bit of an understatement, Eggum basically lifted the 6'0/185 lbs Neurater and crashed him to the ice... think something like a WWE chokeslam. Give Neurater credit though, he fought back and got some good blows in on Eggum. After the initial collision, most players probably wouldn't have gotten up, much less fight. In all, Eggum drew 17 minutes in penalties, but the fans at the Mel loved every second of it.
For the go ahead goal, this is where I tell you Lindensmith made a great play around the net, or Carre did something dazzling, or Eggum came back midway through the third and gave the Ice Wolves the lead. Nope. It was one of the Ice Wolves' hottest forwards with six points since coming back from the holiday break, including two game winners in the last four games. Logan Herauf? Phil Cliche? Justin Ducharme? You're through the Ice Wolves top two lines and you're still wrong.
Graham Smerek grabbed the puck behind the net, faked to one side and got two Stars and Kyle Birch to bite, then jammed the puck into a wide open net for a beautiful go ahead goal. Smerek is on an absolute roll right now and seems to be every bit as dangerous as the Ice Wolves top scorers. He has more points in his last four games than he did all season. Needless to say Coach Beatty has been impressed with the young forward.
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The North Stars came close multiple times but the Wolves survived for the win, another good character builder. Coach Beatty wasn't too happy with some of the early sloppy play, but he likes to see his team battle out a win.
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It was a big win for La Ronge, who could have just folded after Grondin's shortie, and called it a game. They answered quickly and fought it out. Almost as important, the big goal didn't come from the big line, it was secondary scoring that got the go ahead marker, something the Wolves will need come playoff time.
We won't need to wait long for the next chapter of the North Stars and Ice Wolves season series. The two teams go at it on Friday in North Battleford in what's sure to be a great game. All but one of the games have been decided by one goal. I for one can't wait for the call from the Civic Centre.
Three Stars - As selected by Dan O'Connor on CJNB
1. Keith Grondin - Hard to argue with this one. All of the North Stars goals in three different situations. Great game for him.
2. Doug Lindensmith - Two of the Ice Wolves' goals and his usual tenacious self. With the Presidents Tour under way, will we hear his name put forward for the Ice Wolves' top player?
3. Graham Smerek - What a move to get the Ice Wolves the lead. Another solid and gritty game from Smerek. His great speed gave him a couple chances other than the goal.
For those of you looking for some information and thoughts on one of the Ice Wolves' newest members, Stephen Cook, look no further. I know, I spoil you. Here's Coach Beatty on the 6'3/205 lbs defenceman.
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Next game for the Pack is in Humboldt on Thursay for another rematch with the Broncos. If Nick Keller is in the lineup by then, it will be his return to the team that traded him to Swan Valley last week. I'll have a preview up for that game tomorrow morning and of course the broadcast in the evening.
Catch the pre-game show at 7:15 with puck drop at 7:30 on MBC Radio and MBCradio.com.