It’s taken months, but the Fort St. John Huskies are finally on a roll and working their way up the North West Junior Hockey League standings.
After back-to-back wins this weekend against the Sexsmith Vipers and Beaverlodge Blades, the Huskies’ winning streak extended to four games and put them only two points out of fifth place with two games in hand over the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks.
“We have a good run and now’s a good time to be on a run heading into playoffs,” said head coach Gary Alexander after Saturday’s game. “We can move up in the standings a little bit, possibly get a better place to play in the first round and every game we play now we’re gaining confidence.”
“We’re just trying to get to the altitude we need to be at and right now it looks good.”
On Friday the Huskies took a bite out of the Vipers after they travelled to Sexsmith, Alberta to kick off their weekend. Despite being down 2-0 after 30 minutes into the game, the Huskies shifted their momentum with a goal from Robbie Sidhu and went on a second-period tear, getting the 3-2 lead after 40.
Brighton Campbell notched a power-play goal early in the third followed by a Vipers’ goal from Lucas Gow to make it a one-goal game at 4-3. Dayne Pedersen, however, would get his second point of the game by scoring the Huskies’ fifth goal assisted by Campbell and Jayton Wieler.
Goaltender Daimon Derouin got the win with 33 saves.
“I think we’re finally pulling ourselves in the same direction,” Alexander said. “We’re putting in, for the most part, 60 minutes a game instead of half of that or less. We have some momentum going and our goaltending has been a big difference.”
“Our attitudes are better, our behaviour’s better and our effort’s better all the way around.”
The next night the Huskies headed back to Fort St. John to host the Beaverlodge Blades at North Peace Arena with Travis McLean starting between the pipes.
Again the Huskies would fall behind by two goals in the first half of the game. Sidhu opened scoring in the game only 1:11 into the first, but three back-to-back goals from the Blades (one short-handed) gave Beaverlodge 3-1 lead early in the second.
It wouldn’t last.
With excellent goaltending from McLean at one end of the ice, the Huskies went to work offensively at the other, scoring five unanswered goals, two on the power play, to seal the deal at 6-3.
Cayle Bell scored two goals in a row in the second period with assists from Taylor Greatrex, Blair Karasiuk and Sidhu, followed by two jaw-dropping saves in a row from McLean that got some tempers flaring on the Blades’ bench.
Tyler Norris notched another late in the second from Sidhu and Daylen Pearson and John Apsassin slipped one past Dylan Quinn for the fifth goal from Sidhu. Norris and Sidhu teamed up again on the power play late in the third to score after Blades’ Mike Riddell took a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Blades’ goalie Quinn showed his reaction to the loss after throwing his stick above the visitor’s tunnel which cost him a 10 minute misconduct that will carry forward into Beaverlodge’s next game.
“They have attitude issues and haven’t seemed to have solved the problem,” Alexander said about the Blades. “I think we have solved those problems and we’re on the way up now.“
“Our mental game has come up a lot. [The boys] have confidence in their goaltender to make the big save at the end of the game now, so they’re working hard for him to help. Before they were lacking a bit of that and had lost so many games that it’s hard to break out of that. We’re hoping it would’ve started a little earlier in the year to get that confidence going and be a competitor for the top teams in the league but it didn’t happen.“
McLean made 28 saves in Saturday’s start while teammate Sidhu earned the game’s First Star with a whopping five-point night.
“[McLean had] a few shaky moments tonight but he redeemed himself in the latter part of the game,” Alexander said.
“In the early part of the year we were going up two goals then falling behind in the second, so it seems we have to have a bad start, but at least now we’re battling back, we’re not losing our confidence or self esteem, we’re in the ball game no matter what,” he added. “Even when we’re getting beat, we’re scoring four or five goals a game, now we’re cutting that goals-against average game and we’re winning games.”
The Huskies will be able to test the strength of their streak when they face the Grande Prairie JDA Kings on Tuesday night, a team the Huskies have struggled with all season.
“We’re on a slide into [success] now and we’re happy. There’s still some stuff to work on, mind you,” Alexander said. “They need to concentrate and keep the pedal to the medal.”
The Huskies will be in Grande Prairie Tuesday and will host Dawson Creek on Thursday night at North Peace Arena.