Play at blue lines a key as North Stars season on the line

By Nathan Kanter
May 3, 2017 - 4:49pm Updated: May 3, 2017 - 10:49pm

Through three games at the Western Canada Cup, the North Stars have the worst shooting percentage, with five goals on 76 shots.

That stat is one reason, though certainly not the only one, explaining why the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions find themselves in fifth out of five teams after four days at the tournament.

The teams that have capitalized on their opportunities the most so far are the top two teams: Brooks and Chilliwack. Both clubs are shooting at a 12.3 per cent clip, nearly double the North Stars shooting percentage of just 6.6.

In Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Brooks, two costly turnovers from the North Stars ended up in the back of the net in the first seven minutes of the game.

But when the North Stars had opportunities from right in the slot, which did happen, though not nearly enough, they couldn't score.

"It's a little bit quicker here and your mistakes are magnified," North Stars head coach Nate Bedford said one day ahead of the team's must-win game against Chilliwack, who has a 2-1 record so far. "For whatever reason, when we've made mistakes, the other teams have made us pay and on the flip side of it, we haven't done a good enough job of scoring on our opportunites. It's obviously disappointing."

For Battlefords to avoid elimination they need to win in regulation against the Chiefs and they need the evening game between Penticton and Portage to avoid overtime or a shootout. The good news is the winner of that game is irrelevant. As long as one team wins in regulation – and the North Stars take care of their own business – then the North Stars would qualify as the four seed.

In order to take care of their own business, they need to limit their mistakes.

Getting away with mistakes was something that could happen in the SJHL regular season, and even sometimes in the playoffs.

Not when you're playing the best of the best.

"You can't do that here," Bedford said. "Our view is that if we play simple hockey and really work hard and battle and be physical and try to push the pace a little bit, we're usually pretty good. We were on our heels here for a couple games. We'll show the guys some things tomorrow and hopefully that'll remind them how good they are."

One of the aforementioned turnovers from Tuesday's game came right inside the team's own blueline when two forwards had chances to clear and couldn't chip it out.

Meanwhile, clean entries into their opponents zone over the past three games have also been hard to come by on a consistent basis.

That needs to change if the North Stars are going to get that much-needed win tomorrow.

How can it change?

Well, as the North Stars have preached all year long, their strong play starts from the d-zone out, which means clean entries happen when your breakout is clicking.

"We're not leaving our zone with enough speed consistently enough," Bedford said. "One thing that we can improve upon is our forwards need to do a better job of looking for lanes to get outlet passes in our own zone.

"Usually it's because our wingers are too low and standing still or we're too high and not in a good position to receive a pass."

The other key on Thursday could be improving a failing power play that has scored just once on 18 opportunities (5.6 per cent).

Meanwhile Chilliwack has gone 3-for-7 with the man advantage, once again showing their elite finish.

"We're standing around a little bit too much," Bedford said of his power play, which he said actually did more harm than good on Tuesday against Brooks when it went 1-for-9 because it often gave them the momentum. "We're looking for everything on the outside a little bit...I think we've got to go back to dirty areas and have a little bit more movement out there in order to be successful."

One other small thing that favours Battlefords is the fact that Chilliwack has already clinched a spot in the playoffs and the North Stars should be desperate with elimination lurking.

"We're going to have to be a physical team and play with some desperation in order to beat them," Bedford said. "My hope is the game matters and if it does, I think you'll see a real good effort from our group. Whether we win or not remains to be seen but I know that we'll be working hard and that's all we ask, is work hard and sacrifice and usually good things happen."

Thursday's game can once again be heard live on CJNB/CJNS beginning with the Ultra Print pre-game show at 2:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time.


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