North Stars 'average' in 4-2 win over last-place Ice Wolves

By Nathan Kanter
February 6, 2018 - 11:41pm

Fresh off blowing a third period lead in Saturday's loss to the Melville Millionaires, the Battlefords North Stars played only marginally better in their 4-2 win over the last-place La Ronge Ice Wolves on Tuesday night at the Civic Centre.

Although they grabbed their 35th win of the season, the North Stars are just 7-4 in their last 11 games, after going 28-5-2 to start the season.

North Stars head coach Brandon Heck called his team's effort 'just average' after Tuesday's win.

"I thought we turned the puck over a lot. We got better as the game went on," Heck said. "But a lot of mistakes that we weren't making before are creeping into our game.

"There's definitely parts of our game that we need to shape up or it's going to be tough moving forward in the middle of March."

'Selfish play' was a term thrown around to describe Saturday's loss, where the North Stars led Melville 3-2 with just under four minutes left and then surrended two quick goals and fell 4-3 in regulation.

This time around, weak puck support in the defensive zone was a big reason for the North Stars' struggles.

"We took the puck into our end a lot and turned it over," Heck said. "It's on the d-men not moving it quick and on our forwards for a lack of support.

"Credit La Ronge a bit too. They came in and worked hard and frustrated us for sure and their goalie made some big saves."

The game was scoreless after twenty minutes but the home side led 2-0 after two periods, thanks to goals from Garan Magnes and Layne Young.

After Young added a second goal of his own and then Brad Girard made it 4-0 halfway through the third period, La Ronge struck twice in quick succession, to make it a 4-2 game with 7:56 left in regulation.

"All four times after we scored our goal, we had a bad shift right after," Heck noted. "Momentum is on our side and that neutral zone faceoff is key and I don't think we won one...After that fourth goal it finally caught up to us and before you know it you're in a hockey game."

The good news for Battlefords is Young's move to the centre position has been seamless. The captain is on a five-game point streak since the switch, with five goals and eight assists in those games. He leads the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with 30 goals and 59 assists in 46 games.

The bad news is Young's line seems to be the only one producing offence on a consistent basis.

Heck said everyone needs to realize that most offence comes from turnovers and playing well defensively.

"It starts with how you break out in the d-zone," he said. "[On] the Magnes goal...[Cole] Johnson beats his guy and drives through the middle and opens up a lane for Young, who can find Magnes. We need more guys...who are making a difference whether they get points or not.

"[Young] does that a lot for his linemates, which is why they have puck possession and can break out."

Perhaps it wasn't meant to happen against a team with just eight wins this season, but the North Stars are facing some adversity, given the way they've played the last few weeks.

Heck said it's not a bad thing.

"You want adversity...If we're going to go all the way, we're going to face adversity and you're going to have to play when the chips are on the line and things are going against you," he said. " It's good to work on that and stay poistiive and get through it. Adversity creates character: I had a coach who always used to say that. We've got to learn from it. There's a ton of learning lessons." 

North Stars goaltender Joel Grzybowski stopped 23 of 25 shots on Tuesday to improve to 13-1 on the year.

His team will host Weyburn on Thursday, then La Ronge again on Friday, and Notre Dame on Saturday.

After that, the North Stars don't play at home until March 2 against Humboldt.


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