The game began a little differently than usual for Fort St. John, as Captain Cody Hildebrand wasn’t suited up in his hockey gear, apparently resting a nagging injury, an issue that assistant coach Jeremy Clothier said “isn’t a big concern at alll; we are just resting him.”
As a result, recent roster addition Shawn Holliday was sporting the ‘C’, and came out of the gates like a one-man wrecking ball, clearly looking to set the physical tone early in the series. Holliday threw a number of solid checks within the first few minutes of game, the biggest of which earning him a questionable charging penalty only 1:27 into the game.
It took Fort St. John less than five minutes to score their first goal of the post season. The team’s regular season scoring leader Robbie Sidhu, who came out for Wednesday’s game looking energized and determined, went to work early, forechecking hard in the offensive zone. Sidhu got the puck along the wall and used his body well to fight off the Sexsmith defenders, cutting into the middle of the ice and finding wide open rookie forward Blair Karasiuk to the left of starting Sexsmith goalie Nigel Heath. Karasiak quickly shot the puck short side, beating Heath for the 1-0 lead.
The lead lasted roughly ten minutes, as a flurry of shots on Huskies tender Travis Mclean created numerous rebound chances, which despite stopping the majority of shots, Mclean wasn’t able to keep them all out, as Sexsmith tied the game at 1-1.
Both goalies faced a fair bit of rubber in the first, each having to face at least ten shots in the period.
The second period began with quality scoring chances on both ends of the ice. Roughly 4:30 into the period, the Huskies found themselves under sustained pressure, creating a wide open net for a rebound, which fortunately, the Sexsmith player fanned on.
1:15 later at the other end of the rink, Robbie Sidhu found himself all alone on a breakaway, pulling a nifty backhand-forehand move, only to be met by the left pad of Heath, keeping the score tied at 1-1.
Fortunately for the hometown fans, the deadlock didn’t last much longer. Cole Calliou worked hard along the boards with five minutes left in the second, chipping the puck to rookie defenceman Dave Marshall. Marshall, who has terrorized goalies with his powerful shot all season long, ripped a slap shot from just inside the blue line, beating a screened Heath and giving the Huskies a 2-1 lead.
Both Calliou and Marshall finished the game with two points, each earning a goal and an assist.
Despite allowing the go-ahead goal, Heath had a stellar period for the Vipers, turning aside 16 of 17 shots from a Huskies offence that began to find its groove in the second.
The third period had goals in both ends of the ice. The Huskies struck first, scoring at the midway point of the period. On a two-on-two rush, puck carrier Brighton Campbell made a nice cut into the middle of the ice, drawing both defenders towards him. Campbell then served up a tasty pass to Cole Calliou who was all alone in front of the Vipers net. The speedy centre pulled the puck to his backhand and slipped it low past Heath for a 3-1 lead.
The Vipers made things interesting, as a defensive zone face-off loss resulted in a few quick shots on Mclean, one of which created a rebound, which was slipped by the Huskies goalie, making it a 3-2 game.
After cutting the lead to one goal, the Huskies found themselves under attack, as Sexsmith began to pour on the pressure, even ringing a shot off the post with just under five minutes to play. The Huskies didn’t make things any easier for themselves, taking 2 penalties in the last 8 minutes of the game, luckily killing both despite a flurry of Viper chances.
The final two penalty kills was indicative of the Huskies PK throughout the entire game. The Huskies killed all 7 penalties they faced, something that starting goalie Travis Mclean talked about after the game.
“The penalty kill looked pretty good, despite the fact we are working on a new system, one that works better against better teams.”
Mclean played an excellent opening game for the Huskies, stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced, many of which were quality scoring chances.
Following game one of the post season, Fort St. John assistant coach Jeremy Clothier talked about how close the game was, saying he wasn’t at all surprised by how close of a game it was, crediting the Vipers on doing a good job clogging the neutral zone and limiting the Huskies speed.
He also talked about what was a very physical game.
“We expected it to be a physical game and it was important for us to come out and be the more physical team, which will set the tone for the remainder of the series.”
After winning game one at home, the Huskies will next travel to the snake pit, playing game two of the series in Sexsmith Friday, Feb. 17. The teams will then return to Fort St. John Saturday, Feb.18 for game three. If Fort St. John can earn a road victory Friday, they will have the opportunity to close out the series at home on Saturday.
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