It started out with plenty of action, but in the end the Nipawin Hawks dulled down Friday's contest and beat the Battlefords North Stars 4-1 at the Civic Centre.
The North Stars came out strong, outshooting the Hawks 10-7 in the first, but found themselves trailing 2-1 on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.
"In the first, everyone wanted to support the puck and we were winning races and we had that good cycle game," North Stars head coach Brandon Heck said after the club's eighth regulation loss of the season through 41 games. "In the second and third, we were working average — to be polite — so you're not going to get that forecheck. They're stacking the neutral zone and if we're not going to make a smart dump and get to it with speed, they're just going to break out. Lots of times we would have three or four guys buying in and you need all five to beat a good team."
The good news, according to Heck, was that all four of the Hawks goals were scored following mistakes the North Stars made.
"That's all correctable. The good news is they didn't beat us, we lost [to ourselves]," Heck said. "They're oportunistic on your mistakes. We missed a lot of passes that we normally catch...and they're quick to transition on them. The onus is on us."
Much of Friday's contest, which dropped the North Stars record to 31-8-2 this season, was also spent on special teams.
The North Stars scored their lone goal on a power play, thanks to Brad Girard, but they also allowed two goals while shorthanded, as the Hawks power play went 2-for-8.
"It's tough to get all four lines going and use our depth when we're taking penalties like [the ones we took]," Heck said. "Some penalties we were making hockey plays, we get a charge and stuff, but slashing ad stuff behind the play, we don't need to kill that. If we were to get momentum, taking a penalty like that kills it."
Much of the problem, however, was the North Stars never seemed to get any momentum anyways.
They were within one goal for most of the second, and entered the third down 3-1.
In those final two periods, they only managed 15 shots on goaltender Declan Hobbs, who made 24 saves on 25 shots in the end.
"There wasn't much 5-on-5 forechecking but they limited us pretty good in the third period for sure," Heck said. "That team does a lot of the little things right and our challenge was we wanted our players to do the little things right. Certain things, like screening a goalie, we were looking at our linemate to go screen him. I've used the analogy before: we had a lot of wide receivers but no one wanted to be an o-lineman and do any of the dirty work."
Hobbs has now allowed one goal or less in his last seven starts, with a perfect 7-0 record and .970 save percentage over that span.
Meanwhile, Taryn Kotchorek held the North Stars in the game again and again in the final two periods, but couldn't get any offensive help. He finished with 26 saves on the night and his record drops to 11-6-2 this season.
Leading the way offensively for the Hawks was Chad McCartney, who had a goal and an assist. Brandon Arnold returned to the Nipawin lineup for the first time since Dec. 19 and recorded an assist on the insurance goal in the third period.
The North Stars will face the La Ronge Ice Wolves on Saturday night in Spiritwood for a neutral zone game.
"It was evident which team bought in more [tonight] and played the right way," Heck said. "We need to be better."
Saturday's NorSask North Stars hockey action begins on CJNB/CJNS at 7:15 p.m. with the Ultra-Print pre-game show.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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