It was a marginally better effort for the Battlefords North Stars in their third game at the Western Canada Cup, but the Alberta champion Brooks Bandits were simply too much, as the North Stars fell 4-1 to drop to 0-2-1 after three round robin games.
"A tough one – obviously we thought we were going to have a better effort and we got behind the eight-ball right away and kind of shot ourselves in the foot," North Stars head coach Nate Bedford said after Tuesday's loss. "Brooks is a pretty good team – let's be honest. They're as good as it gets and probably for a good 15 minutes of that game I thought we competed extremely well."
Battlefords now needs a win on Thursday over Chilliwack to even have a chance at the third versus fourth playoff game. They need a win, and some luck.
Any kind of loss, and their season is done.
Based on how things have gone so far, lineup changes could be coming.
"Right now our backs are against the wall," Bedford said. "We'll have to evaluate what we want to do with our lines [on Thursday]. I know guys like being buddies with other guys and playing with other guys but right now, you look at our stat sheet and it tells you a whole bunch.
"We're not getting results and we've got to change something."
The Saskatchewan champions' power play scored on Tuesday but continued to struggle mightily, going 1-for-9, while their turnovers also cost them dearly, especially early on.
Just 25 seconds into the game, a failed clearing attempt resulted in a Brooks goal in tight as Parker Foo eventually took the puck from the side of the net to the front and wrapped it past North Stars goalie Joel Grzybowski.
Just six minutes later, a bad giveaway from the North Stars resulted in a beautiful tic-tac-toe play between Ty Mappin, Oliver Chau, and Arnaud Vachon, that Vachon put home easily to make it a 2-0 game early on.
"Just two real bad turnovers," Bedford said of the first two goals allowed. "We had talked about going glass and out – I've probably said glass and out probably 50 times since playoffs and we haven't done it five, probably. Everyone wants to play a skilled game, I get it, and everyone wants to make plays but the game is a little bit too fast to think that quickly and we're finding out the hard way."
The power play entered the game with zero goals on nine attempts and is now 1-for-18 in three games, despite operating at over 20 per cent in both the SJHL regular season and playoffs.
"The power play, this tournament, for whatever reason, I just feel like declining them and playing 5-on-5," Bedford said. "We play better that way. It's hard to gain momentum if you're power play is poor. There's no advantage for us. The power play has been so poor that it's actually a negative thing when we get on the power play because not only do we not score but the other team gains the momentum because they're confident that we'll never score."
Joel Grzybowski was solid in net once again for Battlefords and Keaton Holinaty also stood out, but other than that there were few strong performances.
Not long after going down 2-0, North Stars forward Jared Blaquiere was given a five-minute major for a hit on Bandits forward Connor Jean, which shook Jean up, but he stayed in the game.
Battlefords killed off the entire five-minute penalty and went into the intermission down 2-0.
"You look at our penalties and they can't get any worse," Bedford said. "They're soft and stupid and you don't kill off soft and stupid penalties and keep momentum.
"We were pretty depleted and losing Blaquiere early in the game really hurt us. It was hard for us to take the momentum and run with it."
In the second, Battlefords continued to get outplayed.
Another bad giveaway halfway through the frame at the offensive blueline mixed with a poorly timed changed resulted in a 2-on-0 rush for the Bandits and centreman Josh McKechney fed Chau, who made no mistake.
The North Stars found a little bit of life in the second after Keaton Holinaty's power play goal made it 3-1, but in the third a breakaway goal from Jean put things out of reach.
By the end, Battlefords looked deflated.
The final shots on goal tally was 33-20 for Brooks.
"We looked tired and they didn't," Bedford added. "We're really going to evaluate how we spend the next 24 hours because we looked like we were on our last breath here."
Battlefords final remaining round robin game at the Western Canada Cup is Thursday afternoon against the Chilliwack Chiefs, who are currently 1-1. Even with a win, there is a slight chance the North Stars could still finish last and be out of the tournament. But there's also a chance a win would get them into fourth, in which case they would get to play the third place team in a playoff game on Saturday afternoon.
So Battlefords needs a win on Thursday, plus some luck.
Thursday's game can be heard on CJNB/CJNS beginning with the Ultra Print pre-game show at 2:30 p.m. Saskacthewan time.
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