Evening blowouts followed by early morning ties.
That’s how a four-game series between Whitehorse Bantam Mustangs and Eagle River, Alaska’s Blue Devils played out over the weekend.
The Whitehorse rep team dominated in evening games before hard-fought ties the following mornings.
It was a “Jekyll and Hyde” weekend for his team, said Mustangs head coach Martin Lawrie.
“We just didn’t come to play Saturday morning,” said Lawrie. “We didn’t move the puck well, didn’t forecheck very well, so it caught up to us. We got lucky to tie it late in the game.
“Last night (Saturday) we started to do what we do: we started to forecheck, pass the puck and good things happen. This morning (Sunday) we were back to what we were doing Saturday morning. We didn’t play as a team, weren’t winning races, weren’t winning battles nearly as much as we needed to.”
After finishing the first period down 1-0, the Mustangs went on a scoring spree to win 9-1 Friday evening at Takhini Arena.
They then tied the Blue Devils 3-3 at the Canada Games Centre Saturday morning.
Down 1-0 again, the Mustangs scored three goals in 24 seconds on their way to an 11-1 win Saturday evening at Takhini.
The Whitehorse squad then fought back from down 3-0 to tie the Blue Devils 4-4 Sunday morning.
“They don’t realize they have to play every game,” said Lawrie. “After the first one, they figure they can mail everything in from there and they’re going to win no problem.”
“We just didn’t play well, those two games we tied,” added Mustangs winger Johnny Elias, who had two goals and four assists over the weekend. “We need to come out stronger at the start. Our goalie (Ethan Vanderklay) really held us in for some of it.
“It was just up and down.”
The Mustangs showed grit in Sunday’s tie with a pair of late-game goals. Down 4-2 with eight minutes left, forward Bryce Anderson buried a shot from in front to pull to within one. Teammate Payton Fobe then redirected a shot from Cruz Goodman to tie with just under four minutes left.
“They are a really talented team, obviously, and we’re all a first-year team, so we’re really outgunned as far as size goes,” said Blue Devils head coach Reid McDonald. “We knew the Canadian style game: they hit a lot more than we do back home. For our guys, that was what we wanted to get out of it: to play some bigger, more physical teams. Once they see that and go back home, it shouldn’t be that big a deal for the body contact.”
Mustangs captain Joe Stokes, who sat out Sunday’s game, finished the series with six goals and two assists. Forward Dylan Cozens led the team with four goals and five assists in the series. Anderson notched three goals and three assists; forward Mackenzie Benn-Wipp had four goals and two assists; defenceman Brett Walchuk racked up three goals and an assist.
“They are a dangerous team. They have some powerful forwards and once they get on a roll, we kind of folded our game a little bit,” said McDonald.
“For us, that first night, we had traveled for 24 hours … That was a tough one.”
The Bantam Mustangs have already had plenty of success this season and many suspect they will be medal contenders come the B.C. Hockey Championships in March.
The Tier 3 Bantam Mustangs went undefeated to capture gold at the 12th annual Seafair International Ice Breaker Rep Tournament – a Tier 2 tournament – in October.
They then won five straight for gold at the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association’s International Fall Showdown in November, beating the Yellowknife Wolfpack 8-1 in the final.
During a road trip on Vancouver Island in December, the Mustangs produced four wins and one loss against four Tier 1 teams in exhibition games.
About half of the Bantam Mustangs team will also play for Team Yukon at the Canada Winter Games this month in Prince George, B.C.
“We have a good coaching staff and a good group of guys who work hard,” said Elias. “We have team play, not just individuals carrying us.”
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com