The fifth and final game of the NWJHL semis started just like every game before it in the series, by Grande Prairie scoring first, and Saturday, it was Daniel Bishop who fired in a rebound off a scramble play in front of Huskies goaltender Travis McLean, providing the hometown JDA Kings a 1-0 lead 12:21 into the first.
That lead was doubled before the Huskies could find the back of the net, when defenseman Morgan Eaton activated from the point, receiving a nice pass from Lynden Lewis, and made no mistake beating McLean far side for the 2-0 lead.
A lack of offence in the second was overshadowed by countless trips to the penalty box for both teams, as the period saw the Huskies received two four minute penalties, while six separate penalties were handed out to Grande Prairie.
Penalty killing was a premium Saturday night, as the Huskies went 0-for-7 with the man advantage, while the JDA Kings also couldn’t produce a power-play goal, a rare feat, going 0-for-5 with the extra attacker.
With only 20 minutes of play left in their season, the Huskies once again showed their resiliency, much like they had the remainder of the series, clawing their way back in the elimination game. Jamie Watson pounced on a rebound 8:37 into the third, beating JDA Kings goaltender Sky Buller, who Saturday, made his fifth straight start in the semi-final series.
As the scoreboard read 2-1 and time ticking down, sustained pressure from the line of Tanner Fjellstrom, Tyler Norris and Robbie Sidhu, created a few good scoring chances, one of which producing a juicy rebound. Norris located the loose puck to the left of Buller, roofing it in close quarters, sending the Huskies bench into a frenzy, as scoreboard changed to 2-2.
Before reaching overtime, the Huskies had to kill one last penalty, which they executed perfectly in the final four minutes of play, sending the match to overtime for the second straight game.
Unfortunately, a different game produced the same results, as Nolan Trudeau, the series’ points leader, got the puck on a breakaway just 19 seconds into overtime, making no mistake to slip the puck in past McLean on his backhand, ending the Huskies playoff run and season with a 3-2 overtime final.
The JDA Kings will no progress to play the North Peace Navigators for the NWJHL championship.
It was a hard loss to swallow for the Huskies, especially goaltender Travis McLean, who was easily the best player on the ice last night, stopping an astounding 61 of 64 shots fired his way.
After the game, McLean said the overtime result was a hard loss to experience, especially after playing such a strong game.
“It was a tough way to finish. I gave it everything I had out there, and I feel that this series I’ve played the best hockey I’ve played in a while, or really probably that I’ve ever played. They boys came back and battled hard in the third period to tie it up and it’s unfortunate to lose like that.”
To put things into perspective on just how busy McLean was Saturday evening, throughout 60:19 seconds of hockey, the Huskies were out-shot 64-35. Credit must also be given to JDA Kings goalie Sky Buller, who earned his fourth straight victory in net for Grande Prairie, stopping 33 shots in the series-winning-victory.
McLean said that the playoffs were especially memorable considering the up and down season the team battled through this year.
“Right up until Christmas we had a really slow start and definitely didn’t play up to our potential and after Christmas we finally started finding our rhythm and we did what we knew we could do all along. It was unfortunate that it took a little while, but it was a fun run to the end of the year and the first series was fun to get through. And to give a team like Grande Prairie a run for their money, it was fun.”
McLean had trouble pinpointing his favourite memory of the season, saying there “were so many”, but remembers the packed North Peace Arena in game four of the playoff series versus Grande Prairie, saying receiving such tremendous support from the fans within the community of Fort St. John was a great feeling.
Finally, when asked if Fort St. John would see number one back in between the pipes next season, the goaltender smiled and responded, “you can count on it.”
It was an even more emotional night for a couple leaders on the Fort St. John Huskies squad, as the end of the season marked the conclusion of the Junior hockey careers of Jamie Watson, Cody Hildebrand and Robbie Sidhu, all of whom playing in their final year of eligibility.
It was a fun season of hockey for the Huskies, who battled through some early adversity to really come into their own in the second half of the season, making it fun for the players, coaches and the fans, and despite the second round loss, the team, chalk full of some talented hockey players, seems poised to come back better and more determined next year.