Grande Prairie, Alberta
There’s no doubt that a massive blowout win to start the Arctic Winter Games would be a confidence booster for any team, but let’s not overlook the satisfaction that comes from a close, hard-fought victory. In fact, the latter is just what Team Yukon’s midget boys hockey team is used to.
“We’ve been playing a lot the last two weeks and it seems like we’re either winning 2-1, 1-0 or losing 2-1,” said Team Yukon midget head coach Jim Stephens. “So that’s our type of hockey.”
Meanwhile on the neighbouring rink Team Yukon’s bantam boys team had a rough, 6-0 loss to NWT to start the Games. But the midget team, also playing NWT, hung on to an early 2-0 lead for more than two periods for the shutout win in their opening game in Grande Prairie, Alberta, on Monday.
“It’s a good start for the kids – it’s a long tournament,” said Stephens. “It’s a good confidence builder – first win, first game.
“They are anxious to play and are excited. For some of the kids it’s their first Arctic Games, so there are a little bit of nerves, but they played really well.”
Opening the scoring for the midgets was Lindsay Meikle, chopping at a loose puck in front of the NWT net, resulting from a shot by Travis Rivest. Ryley O’Connor was also credited with an assist on the goal.
Then, with less than five minutes to play in the first, Dalton Edzerza tipped in a lightning pass from Zach Moses to make it 2-0.
“NWT came out strong in the third and (Yukon goalie) Steve (Harlow) made some big saves for us,” said Stephens.
As is often the case for Yukon hockey teams, the bantam squad came out sluggish, having to cope with the toll of travelling and getting re-adjusted to contact hockey, which Yukon teams rarely see in the territory – not that NWT isn’t in similar circumstances.
“We tend to have bad starts – it seems to be normal,” said Team Yukon bantams head coach Kerry Pettitt. “In the Yukon, we haven’t played contact for well over a month.
“We were up against a better team today. They had better foot speed and took it to us with that foot speed. We just didn’t seem to respond; we were a little bit sluggish.”
Only making matters worse early on were five first-period penalties, including two consecutive ones from Braeden Paun, the second of which helped NWT to a 2-0 lead to end the first period.
“That really hurt us,” said Pettitt. “It put stress on our penalty killers. We have four guys doing that job and that really wears them out, so that didn’t help us.
“We started to recover and had a little more puck movement and a few more shots in the second and early third. Then we started to run out of steam.”
Making it harder for the Yukon boys to restrain themselves from getting penalties was a high – possibly head – hit against teammate Josh Harlow, who left the game midway through the second period to be examined at a nearby clinic
“It was some sort of shot to the head – I didn’t see the play,” said Pettitt. “He’s just getting checked to make sure (he’s OK), but I think he’ll be all right.”
The absence of a NWT penalty may have raised tempers; however, the Yukon squad completed the third period without having a player make a trip to the penalty box, with the coaching staff pushing for finesse over brute force.
“They have a little more size on them,” said Pettitt. “We tried to ask the guys going into the third to back off trying to be physical because we weren’t winning that battle today. (We asked they) focus more on foot speed and puck pursuit, sticking in the play and trying to win some pucks that way.
“Mike Amirault was in net for us and he’s the reason it was only 6-0,” added Pettitt. “They out shot us quite a bit and he did a stellar job.
“Our stand out was the goaltending and we’re looking for more of that as we go.”
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