Gut-check time as Huskies trail series 3-1 following tough OT loss

The Huskies fought back to tie the game two separate times, only to lose in overtime 5-4, with the game-winner coming off of a couple of unfortunate bounces.

Game four began like the rest of the games played so far in this series, with the JDA Kings striking first and Thursday it was Sheldon Hubbard who scored first for the Kings.

Hubbard produced the game’s first two goals, the first off a wrist shot from the point, beating a screened Travis McLean on the power-play at 6:03, followed by the defenceman’s second at 11:21

Up 2-0, it looked like the JDA Kings could potentially run away with Thursday’s game, however, the Huskies had other plans, and came storming back to take the lead before the period concluded.

The production of goals started on the power-play at 14:13, when Blair Karasiuk tipped in a wrist shot from the point off the stick of Taylor Greatrex. Then at 18:47, another power-play goal beat JDA Kings goaltender Sky Buller, as Blair Karasiuk notched his second of the period just 11 seconds into a man-advantage, fighting hard to get to a loose puck in the crease produced from a Daylen Pearson point shot, which Karasiuk whacked into the net, tying the game at 2-2.

It was only a tie game for 14 seconds, as Cayle Bell scored at the 19:01 marker of period one. The rookie goal scorer caused a turnover at the JDA Kings blue line, skated in with the puck, made a nice move around a defender to get into shooting position, and beat Buller with a snap shot opposite corner, giving the Huskies a 3-2 lead.

Grande Prairie entered the second period determined to tie the game, and accomplished that goal just 30 seconds into the middle frame, when captain Devin Bell tipped in a low point shot, as the JDA Kings evened the game at 3-3 on the power-play for the lone goal of the period.

Despite the lone goal for Grande Prairie in the second, momentum in the period belonged to Fort St. John, who recovered from the early goal quickly, and pushed the pace throughout the remainder of the second using their speed extremely well, out-shooting the JDA Kings 16-12 in the middle frame.

The back-and-forth action continued in the third period, as Grande Prairie reclaimed the lead 11:35 into the final period, as Adam Hodge scored off a failed clearing attempt by the Huskies to produce a 4-3 Grande Prairie lead.

However, once again, Fort St. John showed their resiliency, fighting back to tie the game at 13:09 of the third. Daylen Pearson blasted a shot from the point, which Buller got a piece of but not enough, as the puck squeaked through the goalie, trickling into the net to tie the game at 4-4.

Just when you thought the fast-paced, physical and exciting game couldn’t get any more thrilling, the horn sounded to conclude regulation, and mark the beginning of overtime.

It only took 2:26 for all the life to be sucked out of the North Peace Arena, as following an evening of highlight reel saves by Travis McLean, the game ended on a fluke goal.

Paul Laroque fired the puck on net for Grande Prairie, which hit the crossbar, rebounding into the slot where it deflected off a Fort St. John defender’s skate, and trickled behind the goal line, sending Grande Prairie into a frenzy, as the visiting team secured a commanding 3-1 second round series lead.

Following the heartbreaker, head coach Gary Alexander spoke about keeping a positive attitude for the remainder of the series.

"It’s the first one to four, they just won three in a row, there’s no reason why the team with momentum can’t come back and do the same thing. It’s a big lead, but a little hard work and faith in yourselves and anything can happen."

Despite nine goals scored in the evening, both goaltenders played incredibly in between the pipes for their respective clubs. Sky Buller made 34 saves to earn his third straight win, while Travis McLean stopped 33 shots, making numerous huge saves in the final minutes of a period, and on the penalty kill, with none bigger than a remarkable point blank glove save 10:09 into the third to preserve a one goal game.

Coach Alexander spoke about his starting goaltender’s performance, saying he expected some offence to generate as a result of some timely saves.

"Trav had another awesome game, you can’t fault him for any of that. The ones he kept out of the net before the ones that went in were pretty important to us. When you get those big saves, you expect to turn it around and shoot it in the other net."

It’s now do or die for Fort St. John, who, with the overtime loss, face a must-win situation for the remainder of the series, as the Huskies have to win three straight to emerge as series winners.

Game five hits the ice of the Grande Prairie Coca-Cola Centre this Saturday, March 9, beginning at 8:30 p.m. The game can be heard live on 100.1 Moose FM, with the Moose FM Pre-Game Show hitting the airwaves at 8:15 p.m.

In other NWJHL news, the North Peace Navigators emerged victorious in their second round series with the Fairview Flyers 4-1, and now await the winner of this series to see who they will face in the finals.