Johnson's 5-point night leads North Stars over Mustangs

By Nathan Kanter
January 25, 2018 - 8:42am

For just a little while, it felt a bit like déjà vu: the Battlefords North Stars getting a comfortable lead and then having it quickly start to disappear.

On Tuesday night, their 2-0 lead heading into the third period against Kindersley turned into a 3-2 deficit in the blink of an eye and then became a 4-2 loss.

On Wednesday, their 4-0 lead early in the second period against Melfort turned into 4-1, then 4-2, then 4-3.

But this time, the North Stars turned in one of their best third period performances of the season, stretching their 4-3 lead to 5-3, 6-3, and finally, 7-3.

The 7-3 win over the Mustangs, a team just one point behind them in the standings, meant a lot, especially with the North Stars hosting the league-leading Nipawin Hawks this coming Friday.

"Melfort is a tough team, comparable to Nipawin," North Stars head coach Brandon Heck said after the game. "We decided, coming into the third period, that we wanted to keep pushing at them. It wasn't our game plan in the second to back off and play tentative and try to be too defensive. We're a team that we're only good when we pressure. We've got to create their mistakes, not just wait for them to make them. That's a good team and they're not going to make them unless you pressure them."

Although the North Stars were officially outshot 28-26, that wasn't indicative of how the game went.

The North Stars chased Melfort starting goalie Evan Plotnik by burying their seven goals.

"We had a ton of quality chances and some good looks," Heck said "I liked the way we generated chances and we got to the net. I was pleased with the offensive performance. Some guys really shined bright."

The biggest individual performance was far and away Cole Johnson, who scored a hat-trick and added two assists.

Since being acquired on the trade deadline from the Lloydminster Bobcats on Jan. 10, he now has six goals and five assists in six games.

But he wasn't the only one to impress the head coach.

"Cole Johnson, Levi Kleiboer, and Garan Magnes I thought were dominant out there," Heck said. "[Those] two [defencemen] were exceptional at putting it in an area and going with speed. And Cole Johnson was going tonight. If he didn't take a 10 [minute misconduct] and two [minute penalty], he would have had an even more special night with the way he was getting chances. The best part about him is he created a lot of his chances by getting in on their guy and causing those mistakes and playing with speed."

Kleiboer, who has been paired with Magnes at even strength the past few games, opened the scoring on Wednesday with a perfect shot to the top corner on a power play just over two minutes into the game. He also added an assist.

Magnes had two helpers, although his defensive zone play was also fabulous (so was Kleiboer's).

Kleiboer wasn't the only North Star to score a power play goal, as MacGregor Sinclair also scored on the man advantage. It was his 27th goal of the season, which is now tied for the most in the league with Estevan's Zach Goberis.

The power play finished the night 2-for-3, after going 1-for-28 the last five games.

"There were maybe a few choice words for the power play after last night and today and good on them. They responded the right way," Heck said. "We're going to need that going forward. They played a little bit more desperate without the puck, retrieving it, and were active with the puck when we had control."

Chaseton Braid and Keith Anderson also scored in the win, with Braid recording a three-point night. Layne Young had two assists and continues to lead the league in points, now with 76 in 40 games.

North Stars goaltender Joel Grzybowski made 25 saves for his 11th win in 12 games this season. He has a 1.87 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage.

The Hawks, who are five points ahead of the North Stars in the overall league standings, visit the Civic Centre at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, the North Stars face the last-place La Ronge Ice Wolves in Spiritwood for a neutral zone game.

 

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On Twitter: @NathanKanter11

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