The long and winding road that was the Battlefords North Stars 2017 pre-season ended on a high Sunday in Saskatoon.
In what was their seventh game in eight days, the defending Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions picked up a dramatic 4-3 overtime win over the Yorkton Terriers at the Rutherford Arena to finish off their pre-season with a 4-3 record.
“It was a long process but I learned a lot from it,” North Stars general manager and head coach Brandon Heck said. “I saw the high character from the guys, especially tonight against Yorkton when we were banged up but we were able to get the win.
“There were lots of good signs over the last week but it will be nice to get some practices in and have a chance to clean up some of the details in our team game.”
Sunday’s contest saw an interesting finish as North Stars defenceman Connor Jensen made a wrap-around play just 31 seconds into the extra frame that appeared to be stopped by Terriers netminder Logan Bateman.
After the officials chatted things over and noticed that the puck was in the back of the net, Jensen’s play was ruled a goal and the North Stars skated away with the win.
“There were about five guys on the bench that were yelling that the puck had gone in but I couldn’t see anything from my vantage point,” Heck said. “I just assumed that their goalie had maybe pulled it out but they all knew where the puck was, so it was kind of funny when they called it before anyone else.
“The first thing I thought of when they ruled it had gone in was of Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winner in 2010 [for the Chicago Blackhawks]. Obviously it was scored in a different way but it was a similar scenario where no one knew what had happened.”
Jensen also scored the game-tying goal on a third period power play as he banged home a rebound from a shot on goal by MacGregor Sinclair.
Troy Gerein and Keith Anderson also found the back of the net for the North Stars, who split goaltending duties between Taryn Kotchorek and Kolby Matthews.
The Terriers were led on offence by a two-goal performance from Jordan Hudson, while Shane Sherban also lit the lamp.
“We had a few regulars sitting out but I felt like this was a really good test for the younger guys,” Terriers head coach and general manager Casey O’Brien said.
“It was a really competitive game and it’s always been like that whenever Yorkton and the Battlefords play each other. I expect more of the same between us this year.”
Bateman played the entire game in goal for the Terriers and was saddled with the loss.
Sunday’s win was a nice bounce-back for the North Stars after they dropped a 6-3 decision to the Kindersley Klippers at the West Central Events Centre.
Layne Young scored twice in the loss, with the team’s other goal coming from Connor Manegre.
Cody Hodgson was impressive for the home team as he put up a hat trick and had two assists.
Jordan Funk scored twice for the Klippers and Tanner Thompson also found the back of the net.
With the pre-season now in the books, Heck and assistant coach Boyd Wakelin will now determine who will make the team’s 25-man squad, as they currently have 29 players on the roster.
That includes newly acquired forward Matthias Urbanski, defenceman Michael Sande and goaltender Kolby Matthews who have joined the team over the course of the last week.
“We’re going to watch some film before we overreact after a game,” Heck said. “We’re going to take some time to think things over.
“I think opening night will be the best case scenario to have our roster set in stone.”
While the North Stars will introduce many of their players at their kickoff breakfast at the Civic Centre Thursday morning, their title defence will officially begin Friday when they’ll visit the Klippers for a 7:30 p.m. tilt.
The two sides will play again Saturday in North Battleford at 7:30 p.m., which will see the 2017 Canalta Cup banner presented to the team prior to opening faceoff.
“I’m sure the players will be fired up to face their biggest rival right away,” Heck said. “I may not have that feeling quite yet, but I’m sure that will change.
“Through the opening weekend and our first few games there’s going to be a huge level of excitement. I don’t think it matters if it was Kindersley or anyone else in the league. You are going to be ready to go.”
Sunday’s game in Saskatoon marked the end of the SJHL pre-season, but not before a number of contests took place over the previous two days.
On Saturday night, Andrew Thompson was dominant for the Melfort Mustangs as he put up a hat trick in a 6-3 win over the Humboldt Broncos.
Justin Ball, Carson Albrecht and Jake Misskey also scored for the hosts, while Ashton Oakes had two assists.
Conner Lukan scored twice for the Broncos, who got their other goal from Zane Avery.
Defenceman Eric Soar had the only goal in a shootout for Melville Millionaires, as goaltender Colby Entz made 44 saves and stymied all three Nipawin Hawks shooters in the skills competition in his team’s 4-3 win.
Clayton Eisler, Peter Michailides and Ethan Kopyczyn scored for the Millionaires in regulation, while Brett Harasymuk, Logan Casavant and Keillan Olson replied for the Hawks.
In Weyburn, Michael McChesney and Matthew Chekay both scored twice for the Estevan Bruins in their 5-4 win over the host Red Wings.
The Bruins other goals came off of the stick of Tanner McKechnie, while Jeremy Velazquez, Cole Woodliffe, Tyran Brown and Derick Smith answered for the Red Wings.
Saturday’s other matchup was an interleague affair between the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Dauphin Kings and the host Yorkton Terriers, which saw the Kings prevail by a score of 6-5.
Nick Ness, Riese Gaber, Brendan Arnold and Matthew Pitchenese each had a goal and assist for the Kings, who also got goals from Matt Bartel and Brody Smelski.
Jordan Hudson, William Brochu, Cody Bruchkowski, Karstin McDonald and Josh Bryant replied for the Terriers.
Those teams also played each other in Dauphin Friday, with the Terriers picking up a narrow 3-2 win over the Kings.
Liam Hovland, Dalton Ossman and Cole Keenleyside all scored for the Terriers, while Jacob Evans and Tristan Slot replied for the Kings.
Another interleague matchup took place at the Whitney Forum, as the Flin Flon Bombers earned a 5-3 victory over the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard.
Nick Shumlanski had two goals and an assist for the Bombers, while Kurtis Rutledge and Nate Hooper each had a goal and two helpers in the victory.
Chrystopher Colin had the other goal for the hosts, who had a 23 save performance from goaltender Brendan Newton.
Travis Roch, Brayden Dale and Anthony Keeper replied for the Blizzard.
In Estevan, Kaelan Holt scored twice and Hayden Guilderson dished out three assists as the host Bruins picked up a 5-2 win over the Weyburn Red Wings.
Johnny Witzke, Jake Heerspink and Jerzy Martin also scored for the Bruins, while Derick Smith had both of the Red Wings goals.
The Melfort Mustangs and Humboldt Broncos battled it out in a high-scoring affair in Humboldt, with Jaxon Joseph’s third period goal proving to be the difference in a 6-5 thriller.
Justin Ball led the way for Melfort with two goals and an assist, while Carson Albrecht had a goal and two assists in the victory.
Tanner Zentner and Reed Gunville also scored for the visitors.
Logan Schatz had a two-goal night for the Broncos, who saw their other goals come from the sticks of Stephen Wack, Teddy Prior and Cole Young.
Finally, the Melville Millionaires and Nipawin Hawks went to a shootout with Ryan Mignault scoring the lone goal in a 2-1 victory for the host Millionaires.
The game was highlighted by a goaltending duel Lance Alm made 28 saves for the Hawks and Josh King turned aside 31 shots for the Millionaires.
Peter Michailides had the lone goal in regulation for the home side, while Jayden Bexte replied for the visitors.
Regular Season Starts Friday
The 2017-18 campaign will begin in Flin Flon Friday, as the Bombers will play host to the La Ronge Ice Wolves at 6:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time.
The other four games will get underway an hour later, as the Melville Millionaires will visit the Estevan Bruins, the Kindersley Klippers will host the Battlefords North Stars, the Melfort Mustangs will entertain the Nipawin Hawks and the Yorkton Terriers will take on the host Weyburn Red Wings.
The Notre Dame Hounds and Humboldt Broncos will begin their seasons Saturday night in Humboldt.