The Huskies underestimated another opponent on Saturday night, and this time it cost them. Leading Sexsmith 3-2 heading into the third period, the Huskies took their feet off the gas, and allowed the Vipers to fight back for the win.
Cam MacKinnon scored the only goal of the first period, jamming a loose puck past Justin Jarvis on a powerplay ten minutes in.
Payden Wongstedt found his way on to the scoresheet early in the second, to make it 2-0. Wongstedt had missed Friday night’s opener with a sore shoulder, and certainly made a difference in the Huskies breakout, which was one area in which they had improved over the previous night. "Payden makes a big difference for us" said Coach Bob Kalb after the game." Kalb singled out Wongstedt, along with Cody Hildebrand, for their strong efforts on the night, but said a lot of other guys hadn’t shown up. "You can’t go into any hockey game expecting an inferior opponent" he said, adding "there’s nothing that’s going to happen for us until we get a better work ethic."
Halfway through the second, the Vipers began to work their way back into the game. Branden Deveaux scored an unassisted goal, to get the first puck past Garrett Muir. Dan Pappin was soon credited with the 3-1 goal, on a goalmouth scramble, but Blair Dietzen made it 3-2 minutes later. The teams would again trade goals late in the second, with Nolan Trudeau scoring just 30 seconds after Cody Kalb’s fourth of the season, making it 4-3 Huskies after 40 minutes.
And with the Huskies on their heels, and the Vipers smelling weakness, Sexsmith continued to press in the third, until Joel Zahara’s tying goal, with five minutes remaining sent the game to overtime.
The extra frame didn’t last long. On an early attack, Jordan Chase’s shot was stopped by Garrett Muir, but he was left alone in front, and he banged in his own rebound, to win the game for the Vipers.
It was a disappointing loss for Fort St. John, but dramatic win for Sexsmith, their second in as many nights, after beating Peace River on a late goal in Friday’s opener. After the game, Vipers head coach Neil Magill had high praise for his team’s effort. "If we’re within a goal, we aren’t going anywhere" he said. Magill worried about the effects of two emotional wins on his club, but also admitted it could be helpful. "We’re going to need that emotion" he said, referring to a schedule that packs in tough opposition early in the season. Sexsmith plays all five of its games against Whitecourt before the end of November, as well as four of its games against both Fort St. John and Peace River. "We need emotions" he said, "we need character, and way to dig deep."
But, Magill also believes his team’s mentality is the biggest difference over last year. After winning only three games all of last season, the Vipers have already beaten two tough teams on their opening weekend, despite having a fairly similar roster to last season. "We have guys that have chips on their shoulders" he says. "They had a bad season, and they’re not willing to have that any more." Magill has pushed for a new attitude for both players and management, and he seems to have had remarkable results so far. He says his players are coachable, and putting in the effort he needs to see.
After Fort St. John outshot Sexsmith 10-4 in the first period, the Vipers fought back, for a final shot tally of 35-26, a telling statistic on the night. The Huskies also spent far more time in the penalty box than did their opponents. Coach Kalb indicated it was another hole in his team’s game. "We’ve talked about it constantly" he said. "You can’t be taking stupid penalties."
In the end, both coaches agreed on where the Huskies went wrong. "They underestimated us" said Magill.
Fort St. John’s next two games are on the road. The Huskies visit Beaverlodge on Friday night (Oct. 2nd), and take on the Grande Prairie Wheelers on Saturday.