The Battlefords North Stars appeared to be severely outmatched to begin Tuesday's game in Nipawin against the league-leading Hawks.
But that was only at first.
The 28-5-2-2 Hawks struck twice in the opening five minutes, and then added a third goal right before the first intermission to take a commanding lead into the break.
Against a team that hadn't lost at home since Sept. 29, coming back would be a tall task.
Thanks to two goals from Brad Girard and a clutch relief performance in goal from Joel Grzybowski, the North Stars beat the odds and pulled off the comeback, winning 4-3 in a shootout.
"The biggest takeaway is character," North Stars head coach Brandon Heck said following the game. "It would have been so easy to fold, down 3-0 and play just good enough to lose 5-2, but they were determined to win. You can't teach that. You've either got the intensity and courage to come from behind and love that challenge or you don't. I'm fully confident in this group that all 22 guys we have right now have it."
The first two shots of the game went in for Nipawin, first a point shot from Josh McDougall and then a backhander in tight from Austin Mikesch.
Then they got a power play goal in the final minute of the first from Jordan Simoneau.
Heck decided to replace Taryn Kotchorek with Joel Grzybowski to begin the second period, and it paid off, as Grzybowski the stopped 16 shots he faced in the final two periods and overtime, and then went 2-for-2 in the shootout.
"We needed to spark the guys with a goaltender change as much as changing the goalies," Heck said.
Keith Anderson forced a turnover late in the second period and fed a pass out to Girard, who quickly buried his third of the season to finally give the North Stars some life.
But coach Heck said momentum began to swing a bit earlier in the middle frame.
"[Things] changed about halfway through the second period," Heck said. "We changed our forecheck and we worked hard without pucks to create turnovers in their end."
When the team found themselves in such a big hole early, Heck was not happy at all.
"I was angry. I didn't think we showed up," Heck said when asked what he was thinking in the first intermission. "I thought they took it to us physically and they outworked us. It's a good sign though, when we can turn it on. That's not easy to do, to be perfectly honest. I had my doubts if they were going to pack it in or respond and we couldn't have responded any better."
Dakota Huebner tapped in a power play goal six minutes into the third period after a perfect pass from Layne Young and then Girard knotted the game up 3-3 after jumping out as the extra attacker and sliding home a perfect pass from Cody Spagrud.
"[Our top guys] played a lot and a lot of times people always think our top line are our best players but in my opinion Cody Spagrud was the best player on the ice tonight," Heck said.
The defensive side also got better as the game went on.
The North Stars were outshot 11-6 in the first, but outshot the home side 29-16 the rest of the way.
"Especially the third period, I thought we limited [their shots] by playing in their end and moving pucks quickly to get out of our end instead of messing around with it," Heck said.
The North Stars are now 27-5-2 and 8-0-1 in their last nine games.
They will head up north to Flin Flon for a pair of back-to-back road games against the Bombers on Friday and Saturday.
"Hopefully we can get a few more bodies in the lineup," Heck said, as Chaseton Braid and Elijah Loon-Stewardson were initially expected to return for the weekend. "We can't rely on our top guys to play so many minutes back to back. We can't take [the Bombers] lightly. I think their record is above .500 at home."
The Bombers are 14-19-1-3 this season overall, 11-6-1-2 at home.
Both games this weekend will be played once again at 7:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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