They made it closer than it needed to be, but the Huskies prevailed over Slave Lake on Saturday night, to advance to the second round.
In the first ten minutes, it looked like game four would be a repeat of Friday night’s game three blowout. The top line for the Huskies got on the board quickly, beginning with Dylan Apsassin’s second playoff goal, less than two minutes in. Soon after, Kurtis Kubel took an innocent enough looking shot, that found its way though Fort St. John goalie Andrew Van der Merwe, who looked rusty and unfocused all night. But the Huskies attack would pour it on, led by more cycling from the top line.
Cody Kalb scored two goals within a minute, both the product of pressure down-low and offensive zone possession. Kyle Porter made it 4-1, when he converted a Steven Fast rebound, and the Huskies were off to the races. Or so it seemed.
Tyson Price made it 4-2, when he took a pass from point-man Nick Plourde, and fired it into the top corner, for a nice powerplay goal. Just ten seconds later, Chad Paulson crossed the blue line and let fire with another puck that found its way through Van der Merwe, to make it a one goal game. Dan Pappin rounded out the first period scoring, after some more extended pressure from the Huskies, this time four-on-four.
There would be only one goal in the second, and once again, it was a long Chad Paulson shot that somehow found its way through Van der Merwe. After the game, coach Bob Kalb admitted he thought about sending number-one Zack Blain in for Van der Merwe, but was trying to avoid it. "I really didn’t want to" he said, adding "I don’t know what I would have done if it would have gone into overtime, but it worked out."
Early in the third period, Slave Lake tied the game up, when Tyson Price went inside-out, and fired a snap-shot off the left post and in. At that point, it seemed that the Wolves had all the momentum, with the Huskies on their heels, suddenly struggling to get the puck out of their zone.
They would regain their composure, but Slave Lake would take a lead. With 8:30 remaining, Alex MacIssac weaved his way into the Fort St. John zone, and beat Van der Merwe stick side, to make it 6-5 Wolves.
Moments later, MacIsaac caught Kyle Porter with a high-stick, resulting in a four minute powerplay for the Huskies. That would prove fatal, as in the first two minutes, Payden Wongstedt took a pass from Cody Kalb, and fired a one-timer from the top of the circle past Travis Chartier, to pull the pups back to even.
For a couple of minutes, both goaltenders stood tall. Travis Chartier held his ground admirably against Kyle Porter, who whacked away at a puck loose under his left pad. Back the other way, Van der Merwe looked more confident as he gave Tyson Price little to shoot at on a breakaway.
With 1:03 remaining, Kole Norris provided the heroics, walking out from the right corner unmolested, and firing a wrist-shot past Travis Chartier, to put the Wolves on the brink. Slave Lake would get one more opportunity, but couldn’t get the puck to the net, and the Huskies held on for a 7-6 win. Norris’ game winner came on the heels of two goals last night. "It feels good," said the 18 year-old. Norris missed games one and two of the series with post-concussion problems, but says his head is on the mend. "Once in a while I’ll get a little headache, but it’s fine now."
After the game, Cody Kalb, who had four points on the night (2+2), was disappointed with the effort from his team. "I think it was the mentality," he said. "Coming in here, everyone thought it was going to be a cake walk," adding "it turned out that they had some pride."
While the game was much tighter than the Huskies might have envisioned, coach Kalb was still impressed wih the effort from the underdog Wolves.
And so, the Huskies advance to the second round, while the season comes to an end for the Slave Lake. The Wolves would climb aboard the bus for the long ride home, but certainly gave the heavily-favoured Huskies a run for their money. At this point, NWJHL coach of the year Scott Sinclair is still unsure of his future, admitting the possibility he may not return as head-coach next year.
Elsewhere in the NWJHL playoffs, the Grande Prairie Wheelers defeated the Dawson Creek Jr. Canucks in game five, to knock out the fourth ranked Canucks.
And, the Beaverlodge Blades made the most of home ice, beating the Peace River Navigators 7-5, to force a fifth and deciding game in the 3 vs. 6 series.
And so, the Huskies will now await the result of Peace River / Beaverlodge to see who they will take on in the semi-finals. If the Blades can win game five (in Peace River), Beaverlodge will advance to play Whitecourt, and Fort St. John will take on Grande Prairie. If the Navigators win game five, Peace River will take on FSJ, and Grande Prairie will take on Whitecourt.
Stay tuned for updates and schedules as soon as they are available.