It wasn’t easy, and at times it even looked bleak. But the Fort St. John Huskies are back in the NWJHL Final for the second straight year after beating the North Peace Navigators 4-3 in the semifinals. They will play the County of Grande Prairie Kings, who beat the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks 4-3 in the league’s other semifinal.
The Huskies held a 2-1 lead over North Peace after three games, and looked firmly in control of the series, until the wheels came off in Game 4. They lost that game 10-4, and, after losing Game 5 despite throwing 56 shots on net, there was real doubt as to whether the Huskies would be able to win the next two games and take the series.
The Huskies showed why they’re the defending NWJHL champions, as they won 3-2 on the road in Game 6 on Saturday, March 9, and won 3-0 on home in Game 7 on Sunday, March 10 in front of a recorded crowd of 775 people. The Huskies had another 51 shots on net in Game 7. Navigators goalie Ryan Noble lived up to his reputation and made it tough for Fort St. John, but the team found a way to get it done.
“We didn’t get frustrated. (Noble) is their best player, a hell of a goaltender, and has nothing to hang his head about. We knew the only way to take him away was to make him work,” said Huskies Coach Todd Alexander.
“We didn’t care when he made a save, we just rolled the next line out there and came at them again.”
The resilience is a testament to the Huskies’ belief in their team and the system they play.
“We just needed to stick to the game plan that (Alexander) lays out ever night. We know we’ll be successful if we sacrificed our bodies and play smart. We deserved it, and going back to the finals just feels right,” said Huskies defenceman Jared Loewen.
For the Huskies, goalie Jonathan Bateman had an up and down series, but was at his best when it counted. In the four Fort St. John wins, Bateman allowed a total of four goals.
“It felt great, but I had a lot of good help in front of me and I need to credit the bots for grinding hard and blocking shots,” Bateman said.
For their efforts, the Huskies are rewarded with a series against the Kings, the team they had the most success against in the regular season. In seven games against Grande Prairie this season, the Huskies were 5-2, scoring 4.4 goals a game while allowing just 2.7 goals against.
Still, the Kings are coming off back-to-back series wins that went the distance, as they came back down 2-1 to beat the Sexsmith Vipers 3-2 in the first round.
Game l goes Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. in Fort St. John. Game 2 is in Grande Prairie on Saturday, March 16 at 8 p.m., with Game 3 back at the North Peace Arena on Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.