Familiarity helped the Battlefords North Stars on opening night.
Not necessarily amongst themselves, but amongst their opponents.
North Stars defenceman Levi Kleiboer, who was named an assistant captain for this season earlier in the week, was the overtime hero in a 1-0 win. He said after the game it helped that he had played with Kindersley Klippers goaltender Justen Close when the two were younger.
"I know he has a good glove, so I just ripped her far blocker," Kleiboer said, recalling his winning goal 1:10 into the 3-on-3 overtime on a shot from between the slot and faceoff dot. "And it went in there, so that was good."
Earlier in the game, Kleiboer, had shot it wide on a golden opportunity in front. This time, he didn't miss.
MacGregor Sinclair was on the ice when captain Layne Young fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Kleiboer, and recalled what he saw.
"[Kleiboer] just busted to the net and Young sauced a nice one over, right on the tape and Kleiboer picked apart Close," Sinclair said. "It was a nice shot."
The win for Battlefords make it 21 straight regular season wins against their biggest divisional opponent. Last season, they went a perfect 10-0. The year before they went 8-0.
But this win was also new head coach Brandon Heck's first behind a Junior A bench, as he moved up from the AAA bantam ranks this summer.
"It feels extremely special," Heck said on the post-game show on 93.3 the Rock. "A bit of a relief too. A lot of emotions going through the body now. It was a long road to get to Junior A. I've got a lot of people to thank, starting with my family making a big sacrifice for me; my wife and kids, so that's who I'm thinking about right now."
The 32-year-old said he didn't even see the winning goal because he was having words with a player who was coming off on a line change at the time.
"I heard the celebration. I didn't even get to finish [talking with] the guy who came off," Heck said. "I knew it was [Kleiboer]. Right when I looked up, he was celebrating."
Other than Kleiboer's winner, it was Taryn Kotchorek who shone for the North Stars on Friday, stopping all 29 pucks thrown his way for his tenth career shutout.
The 20-year-old has now won his last 16 games in a row, dating back to January of last season. That includes winning two games in relief in last year's playoffs, one against Weyburn and one against Flin Flon, both in clinching game fours.
He now carries a career .931 save percentage and 1.75 goals-against-average in 57 regular season games.
The North Stars and Klippers will meet on Saturday night for a rematch at the Civic Centre, when the North Stars will raise their championship banner in a pre-game ceremony.
The game can be heard live on CJNB/CJNS beginning with the Ultra Print pre-game show starting at 7:15 p.m.
3 Stars from Friday:
3. Justen Close - G - KIN - 37 saves on 38 shots
2. Taryn Kotchorek - G - BAT - 29 saves on 29 shots
1. Levi Kleiboer - D - BAT - Scored overtime winner
OT - 1:10 - Kleiboer (1) ASST: Young (1)
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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