Fans should have brought their brooms to the North Peace Arena on Monday night because the Fort St. John Junior Huskies swept the Slave Lake Wolves on home ice in a 10-2 blowout.
The Huskies, who won back-to-back games over the weekend in Slave Lake, brought the North West Junior Hockey League playoffs series to their own barn on Monday with all the momentum on their side.
Huskies’ Jamie Watson said he didn’t expect the game to be so one-sided.
“I thought it was going to overtime, that’s what I thought last game,” he said Monday night, “But the boys were pretty pumped after two wins in their barn. We brought it to our own barn. We had something to show, something to prove to the fans and look what happened.”
“You have no idea how badly we want to win,” he added. “After that season and how tough the road was, we have something to prove to everybody, we have lots of support, so as long as we have fans we’re going to keep killing it.”
The Huskies wasted no time opening scoring, unlike in Games 1 and 2 when neither team got on the board until the second period. Less than three minutes into the first Dayne Pedersen made it 1-0 with Tyler Norris scoring 13 minutes later to finish the period with a 2-0 lead.
Penalties for both teams were minimal in the first, but that would change, as eventually both teams would rack up a whopping 229 PIMS.
Twenty-nine minutes into the game, the Huskies were up 6-0 after second-period goals from Blair Karasiuk, Mike Bacso, Cody Hildebrand and Pedersen with a 21-9 shot differential. Wolves’ goalie Rhiley Laderoute was pulled after allowing four goals in 14 shots and Curtis Malbeuf went in.
A minute later Slave Lake went on the power play and denied Huskies’ goaltender Travis McLean the shutout when Colter Tkach got the Wolves’ first goal, but Robbie Sidhu answered when he dangled his way in to score on Malbeuf to make it 7-1 for the home team.
A familiar sight during the physical series, another scrum broke out after Sidhu’s goal, sending Norris to the box for roughing. As the Wolves’ power play ran out, Michael Letendre went fivehole on McLean to score Slave Lake’s final goal of the game.
Watson took on Slave Lake’s Nelson Anderson in the game’s first fight and found himself a little out-sized.
“It’s always an unfair size advantage,” Watson said about the fight, laughing. “Eye of the Tiger, I guess.”
Teammate Pedersen got the game’s second fight a few minutes later with Wolves’ Travis Malbeuf to join Watson in the dressing room.
The Huskies had 24 shots on goal in the second.
The third period’s momentum shifted as Wolves’ goaltender Laderoute returned and let in two goals in 11 shots in the final period of the game. Cayle Bell wove his away around Slave Lake’s defensemen to make it 9-2 then with 32 seconds left in the game, Hildebrand scored his second goal of the night to seal the deal.
From start to finish the Huskies were to determined to win the best-of-five series in three and give their fans something to watch after a slow start to the NWJHL season.
“We definitely took the long way, we didn’t take any short cuts,” Watson said. “We just used hard work and kept growing with every game. Even though we had a big losing streak we just kept our heads high. We had a lot of support from our coaches and fans, and even though we lost they were still there every game and we kept together as a team.”
For Round 2 the Huskies are waiting to see whether or not they play the Fairview Flyers or the Grande Prairie JDA Kings. If it’s Grande Prairie, the league’s top team, Watson said it will be a hard journey, but they’re read for it.
“We’ll have to come out strong and hard and keep positive. We’ve come this far; we’re not going to quit. We’re a hard-working team and we’ve got new guys coming on and we’re all clicking now.”
“The vibe was unreal [in the locker room]. The guys were saying, ‘Who’s next?’”
One thing Watson is the happiest about is the team finally being able to make their coaches proud.
“I know Gary [Alexander] was sad about us because we weren’t giving it hard all season, now we’re winning, we’re putting pucks in the net, we’ve got good defensive-zone coverage and everything,” he said. “He’s the happiest guy, I can just tell.”
“I don’t even know what to say. He’s the happiest and that makes me so happy. He’s a heartfelt guy and I love him. Gary’s the best coach I’ve ever had.”
The Huskies eagerly await their next opponent.
“We’re confident,” Watson said. “Our heads are high, our spirits are up and the boys having a great time. Everyone’s smiling and that’s what we like to see. We’re happy and having fun.”