By Jon Zacks.
It seems like the Huskies and Navigators just can’t play bad games against each other.
The old NWJHL rivals engaged in another great battle on Friday night, with Fort St. John prevailing thanks to some stellar goaltending, and execution on special teams.
It didn’t start well for the Huskies, with Brenton Wiebe banging a loose puck past Ty Gullickson on a delayed penalty, just 7 seconds into the game. But, while the Navigators kept the pressure on for roughly the first ten minutes of the game, the Huskies survived, killed off some penalties, and then got on the front foot.
With Steven Fast and the MacKinnon brothers all out of the lineup, Luke McInerney centred the second line, and made the most of the opportunity, scoring a powerplay goal with 6 ½ minutes left in the first, for a 1-1 tie after 20 minutes.
The Huskies struck twice in the second period, with Cody Hildebrand finishing a beautifully executed 2-on-1 with Cody Kalb, and Cory Langdon shoving a rebound past Cole Robert on a mad scramble.
While the Huskies had survived an emotional first period, the Navs soon faced the same adversity, with Lance Rapson kicked out for his complaining after Langdon’s goal.
But, the Navs fought back, and Alex Balfour scored a powerplay goal of his own, to get the Navs within one after 2 periods. Early in the third, Kurt Konopelka beat Gullickson on a long breakaway, to tie the game up 3-3.
But, after taking a couple of penalties in the first, Payden Wongstedt again showed how pivitol a player he is, when he beat two defenders, and then fired between Roberts’ legs, to give the Huskies their third powerplay goal of the night, and a 5-4 lead.
Two weeks ago in Peace River, the Navs had come back from a late defecit to win in overtime, but on this night, the Huskies killed the clock, and got some clutch goaltending from Gullickson to preserve the lead. Finally, with five seconds left, Cody Hildebrand slid the puck into an empty net, to give the Huskies a 5-3 win. After the final horn, Wongstedt fought Kyle Smith, after the Navigator had allegedly butt-ended Kyle Porter.
Ty Gullickson made 33 saves on the night, and earned high praise from Peace River coach Darcy Haugan for his performance. He made several key saves in the third period, but was perhaps most impressive in pouncing on loose pucks to negate goal-scoring chances. “I was just being aggressive, and being confident in getting there” he said after the game. “I’m feeling confident in my game right now, and just need to keep that up, and play my style of game.”
Specials teams also clearly factored into Friday’s game, with the Huskies striking 3 times with the man advantage, and the Navs once.
In a sign of the tight battle, both coaches expressed their satisfaction with their respective teams. In a post-game interview, Peace River’s Darcy Haugan said he thought the game was well played on both sides, great entertainment for the fans, and an “excellent showcase of the league as a whole,”
While the Navigators remain in a dog-fight for playoff position, the Huskies have now clinched second place in the NWJHL standings. The win gives the Huskies 3 wins in the 5 game season series against Peace River, though another playoff matchup between the teams is still possible.
Fort St. John will look to continue their strong play as they head to Slave Lake for games Saturday and Sunday. Catch both games live on Moose FM, starting at 8 o’clock on Saturday, and Sunday at 2.