Heading into game 1 of the best-of-seven quarterfinal series between the Battlefords North Stars and the Richardson Pioneer Weyburn Red Wings, many pundits around the league had already pencilled in the North Stars as the team that would advance after a four-game sweep. After all, the North Stars only lost five games in regulation all season and spent most of the regular season as the top-ranked team in the country.
The Red Wings, though, had completely different ideas and showed that tenacity in the face of adversity can go a long way in proving just how wrong people could be. Weyburn would score two power play goals, and Dazza Mitchell made 39 stops in goal as the Red Wings skated to a 3-2 victory in the first game of the series.
“It’s still just about competing for loose pucks and getting possession is the biggest thing,” said head coach Cody Mapes after the game. “We did a good job of that tonight. (Blake) Norris on the one power play was really good and Hass (Jackson Hassman) was really good again. That big body in front of the net bangs in a rebound – the eventual game-winner.”
One of the keys for the Red Wings heading into the series would be to find ways to limit goals in the third period, while also getting the North Stars to take penalties as they had one of the worst penalty kills in the second half of the season. Those strategies paid off, as the North Stars gave the Red Wings seven power plays, including a late double minor to Nolan Doell late in the third for tripping by slew foot.
In the first period, it was the goaltending that shone, as both teams had a number of opportunities. Mitchell earned his way to being named the first star of the game stopping a number of breakaways and shutting down the top-scoring line in the SJHL this season. At the other end, Josh Kotai kept the Wings off the board in the first period.
The North Stars would break the deadlock at 0-0 just 62 seconds into the second, when Kian Bell, the leading scorer in the SJHL in the regular season, put the puck past Mitchell while the North Stars were on the power play. His goal was assisted by Tynan Ewart and Jake Southgate.
The Red Wings would answer back with a power play goal of their own at the 4:09 mark. Ty Mason scored his first of the post-season, assisted on the goal by Norris and Ryley Morgan. Morgan then gave Weyburn the lead when he scored a shorthanded goal with 7:14 to play in the second, making it 2-1.
“He plays in every facet of the game,” Mapes said of Morgan’s efforts not just in the game Friday night, but the whole season. “He’s blocking shots on the penalty kill, he’s getting pucks out on his wall, he’s obviously important on the power play. You can’t say enough good things about him.”
In the third period, the North Stars threw everything they had at Mitchell to try to tie the game up, but it would be a power play goal from Hassman that would extend the lead and give the Red Wings a bit of a cushion. Hassman’s goal with 3:56 to play was assisted by Norris and Jordan Edwards.
The final moments of the third would see the two teams combine for 26 minutes in penalties, with most of the calls being off-setting minors. With fewer players on the ice, the North Stars took advantage of the space and pulled Kotai in favour of the extra attacker. This would work to their advantage, as Keiton Klein scored with just 17 seconds remaining to make it 3-2. Jackson Allan had the assist on the goal.
The win for the Red Wings marks just the third time since the start of the regular season that the North Stars lost on home ice. It also gives a boost in momentum for the team that was considered the underdog at the start of the playoffs heading into Game 2 Saturday night.
You will be able to catch all the action in Game 2 on Red Wing Radio, BIG 106, starting with the pregame show at 7:15. The series will then come down to Weyburn Tuesday and Wednesday for Games 3 & 4.