It was only fitting that Friday night’s game seven between the Fort St. John Huskies and the North Peace Navigators was a wild affair.
With both teams showing nerves and excitement before the game, the opening minute saw both goaltenders forced to make solid pad saves – and it was a sign of things to come. 5:49 into the game, the Huskies drew first blood, when Steven Fast just missed Kole Norris on a two-on-one pass. The Puck went into the corner, and was centred to Cam MacKinnon, who wrapped it around Bretton Stewart, giving a big lift to the Huskies bench, and an unneeded wake up call to the 700 fans on hand for the game. MacKinnon’s goal was the only one of the first period, which was a fairly evenly matched frame.
With just a minute left, Tyson Pederson was flattened by Jay Gaydosh just over the Navs blue line. Pederson was slow to get up, and then noticeably woozy when he tried to skate back to the bench. He would head straight down the tunnel, but did return later on in the game. The Huskies were upset with the hit, just one of several times the referee would come under scrutiny in a highly emotional game.
Just 16 seconds into the second, Gerry Young stole a puck, and headed all-alone towards the Huskies net. But somehow, Linden Apsassin reached Young and knocked the puck of his stick. Moments later, Payden Wongstedt found Kole Norris on a long stretch pass. Norris had his breakaway attempt saved, with some confusion afterwards when it seemed like the linesman had called a goal, but the referee overruled that, and the game remained 1-0 FSJ.
2 minutes into the second, Norris would find the back of the net, after a drop pass from Fast, to MacKinnon, whose shot was saved, with the rebound converted by Norris. 4 minutes later, the drama really began. Gerry Young got Peace River on the board, when he scored a powerplay goal, corralling a bouncing puck and slipping it past Zack Blain.
Just 6 seconds later, Dylan Apsassin found his name on the scoresheet, taking the puck off Cody Kalb’s face-off win, busting down the right, and beating Bretton Stewart. It was the beginning of a big night, for Dylan. Less than three minutes later, after two huge saves from Bretton Stewart, Apsassin scored his second, with the pups on a two-man advantage (Balfour tripping, Young roughing) when Jesse Disher’s point shot missed the net, and bounced off the end boards right to Dylan. Soon after, Navigators coach Darcy Haugan provided some theatrics, when he complained to the ref about a hit on Adam Boytinck by Payden Wongstedt. Haugan was served a two minute penalty, at which point he lost his cool, yelling at the ref, and getting ejected from the game. But he wouldn’t go quietly. As he reached the end of the bench, he went bananas, throwing sticks, towels, water bottles, and anything else he could find onto the ice. Haugan, typically a very calm and reserved character had either lost his composure, or was making a calculated scene to spark his team. His counterpart, coach Bob Kalb felt it was the former. [asset|aid=1108|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=d52bf5d4e635453d0a8a780ac5696a9b-bob-haugan_1_Pub.mp3]
While coach Kalb was sympathetic to Haugan’s plight, he didn’t feel the Navigators were short-changed in the game. [asset|aid=1109|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=d52bf5d4e635453d0a8a780ac5696a9b-bob-reffing_1_Pub.mp3]
Coach Haugan’s explosion seemed, at least at first, to work like a charm. Just 9 seconds after the restart, and with the Navigators killing a 4-on-3 powerplay, Mitch Kohut fought his way into the Huskies zone, beating two defenceman and Blain, to score an outstanding solo effort.
Kohut was simply excellent all night long, keeping in pucks at the blue line, making hits, creating traffic in front, and chipping in on the score sheet. The third period began with the Huskies leading 4-2. It would seem like two early goals would seal the deal for FSJ, with Cody Kalb creating a 3-on-1 with a nice move in the neutral zone, and then converting a give-and-go with Dylan Apsassin. Just 9 seconds later, Dylan Apsassin earned a bucketful of hats, when he streaked down the right hand side, and beat a stunned Bretton Stewart. Within 2 minutes, both teams had struck again.
Peace River scored when a Tyler Lemire shot his the post, and settled in the mid-section of Kyle Richardson, who pretty much skated it into the net. Cody Hildebrand then potted his seventh of the playoffs, to make it 7-3 Huskies. But again, the Navs would refuse to quit. With 11 minutes remaining, Lemire scored a powerplay marker, blasting a point shot through everything. 30 seconds later, Gerry Young stepped around Tyson Pederson, and beat Blain, to get the Navs back within two.
The eighth goal for the Huskies seemed to take the wind out of the Peace River sails. It was Dylan Apsassin’s fourth of the game, as he charged down the left wing, and fired another shot through Bretton Stewart, to make it 8-5 Fort St. John.
After the game, Apsassin said he and the team were nervous, particularly in front of the big crowd, but he said the fans were huge. "The crowd was loud – wow. It was really nice" he said. Apsassin had a huge night, posting four goals and an assist, as well as getting into it with Kyle Richardson. "Dylan Apsassin makes such a difference to our hockey club, and such a difference to his line," said Coach Kalb. [asset|aid=1110|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=d52bf5d4e635453d0a8a780ac5696a9b-bob-dylan_1_Pub.mp3]
Dylan Apsassin’s fourth of the night would finally seal the win for the Huskies, who emerged with an 8-5 win. Zack Blain posted the win in goal, stopping 30 of the 35 shots he faced. He was well-focused all game. "They played pretty hard – they wanted it," said Blain afterwards. "But they’ve got a few clowns out there that got some stupid penalties, and that killed them." Despite having played 5 games in six nights (with two more to follow) Blain said, while his legs were tired, it’s more important to simply have a good routine. [asset|aid=1111|format=mp3player|formatter=asset_bonus|title=d52bf5d4e635453d0a8a780ac5696a9b-zack-legs_1_Pub.mp3]
Though it had been a long and at-times bitter series, there would be only one fight in the late stages of the game. With Cam MacKinnon being hooked by Joel Balfour, and a delayed penalty coming, MacKinnon turned around and engaged with Balfour. The two both landed a couple of punches, but tied each other up well, earning a split decision. The rest of the game was played peacefully, with another respectful handshake at centre ice to conclude the night’s entertainment.
And so, the season comes to an end for the defending champion North Peace Navigators. For the Huskies, there is no time to celebrate the win. The team boards the bus early Saturday morning, for game One of the finals vs. the Whitecourt Wolverines.
For more on the Fort St. John vs WCT finals, click here: