The 300 or so fans who came to the North Peace Arena on Sunday night were treated to some outstanding playoff hockey. There was tough physical play, excellent goaltending, and plently of slick passing and speed. After lopsided regular seasons and a gimme opening series, it’s nice to know the playoffs are here.
To be fair, the Flyers widely outplayed their opponents in game one. The shots on goal counted 41-14 in favour of the home team. The scoring chances were likewise dominated by Fort St. John. But, thanks to some hit posts, missed nets, and sensational goaltending from Mett Yesmaniski, the game was close throughout.
Matt Shuya opened the scoring eight minutes in, when he tapped home a rebound, after Adam Loncan cut to the net, and tried to reach the puck around a sprawled Yesmaniski. In the second period, the Flyers had 5 chances on the powerplay, and couldn’t convert any of them. In the final two minutes of the second, with both Paul Wiens and Luke Middleton in the box, Brad Kennedy deflected a Donny Lloyd point shot, to make it 1-1 after 40 minutes.
While the Flyers admit they should have been comfortably ahead heading into the third period, it wasn’t until Kip Noble’s powerplay goal with 7:14 remaining, that the Flyers went ahead to stay.
The Rangers would get two more cracks with the man-advantage, but the Flyers would kill both, with a Todd Alexander empty netter (short-handed) sealing the deal with 20 seconds left.
Still, the Flyers were happy with the win, and felt they had played well, which is certianly a tribute to single ‘A’ Spirit River, and bodes well for the rest of the series.
On a night when the Flyers went 1 for 10 on the powerplay, special teams could be seen as problematic. But, coach Adam Brash doesn’t buy that.
While Brash says the score should have been at least 6-1 after the second, he felt the game was well played, and that his team simply lacked finish.
Flyers starter Troy Hunt earned the win, stopping 13 of the 14 shots he faced. It was Hunt’s first action since the regular season, after missing the opening round for a family wedding, but he looked sharp when called upon, and had plenty of help. “The Boys played amazing tonight,” he said. “I got barely any rubber – they had two maybe three scoring chances all night.” Hunt payed special tribute to his forwards, for limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against. He also lauded Yesmaniski for his game, crediting his opponent for keeping it close.
While Yesmaniski made highlight reel saves one after another, the save of the night may well have come from Troy Hunt, who reached back with his paddle along the ice, to rob Mark Wallman of the tying goal with four minutes remaining.
The Rangers did have a couple of changes to the lineup we’ve seen so far this season. Brad Kennedy has rejoined the team, after winning playoff MVP last season. Also joining the team are Tyler Mounsey and tough-guy Kurtis Swanson, though Swanson hardly stepped on the ice on Sunday night.
And so, the Flyers win the first game of the best-of-seven semi-final, with game two set for Tuesday night in Spirit River. Catch the game live on MooseFM (8:30 pm)