New top line, dominant second period lead North Stars to lopsided win

By Nathan Kanter
January 28, 2018 - 12:43am

Following Friday night's 4-1 loss to the Nipawin Hawks on home ice, the Battlefords North Stars coaching staff decided to mix up the lineup for Saturday.

Not so much based on who dressed and who didn't, but based on who played with who.

Captain Layne Young and MacGregor Sinclair were split up, with Young moved to centre between Cole Johnson and Brad Girard, while Sinclair was put in the middle of Parker Smyth and Dakota Huebner. Matthias Urbanski was reunited with Keith Anderson and Chaseton Braid, and Owen Lamb centred Blake Fennig and Elijah Loon-Stewardson.

The results?

An 8-1 lopsided win over the last-place La Ronge Ice Wolves.

"All lines were firing. Guys were getting lots of chances," North Stars assistant coach Boyd Wakelin said after the game. "Guys just bought in and started playing the right way, the way we've been talking about playing: working hard without the puck and getting to the net and creating scoring chances and working for each other."

Though all lines seemed to be in sync, one line in particular stood out big time.

The new top line of Young, Johnson, and Girard combined for six even strength goals, with Johnson netting four, and Girard and Young each scoring once.

"All three of them were just hounds on the puck: on the backcheck, on the forecheck, all over the ice," Wakelin said. "We talk about it all year, that to be a good offensive player you have to be a good defensive player and all three of them were hard on the backcheck and turned pucks over in the neutral zone.

"They were getting rewarded for it on their transition game."

Johnson now has seven goals in his last three games, and 10 goals and four assists as a member of the North Stars in seven games since being acquired on Jan. 10.

Girard had a career high four points on Saturday, with one goal and four assists, while Young had his seventh three-point game of the season with a goal and two assists.

After the game, Wakelin made a point of saying it's important for the forwards not to get too comfortable with playing with the same guys all the time, which can sometimes lead to complacency and was one reason for the jumbled lineup.

"Sometimes you've got to mix things up just so guys' creative juices get flowing," Wakelin said. "I think when you're playing with the same guys all the time and things start to get stagnant, you need to try different things out and I think it worked out tonight."

In addition to the top line's six goals, two other lines also found the back of the net, as Blake Fennig and Matthias Urbanski had the other North Star goals.

Although the offence was firing on all cylinders by the final buzzer, the game was just 1-1 after the first period.

If it weren't for goaltender Taryn Kotchorek early on, the North Stars could have found themselves playing a very different second period, instead of the one where they scored five goals and went up 6-1.

"[Kotchorek] did a great job of letting us come out of that [first] period 1-1," Wakelin said. "You see the lopsided score but he made a lot of big saves in the first, and in the third he made some big ones too."

The veteran netminder was credited with 37 saves on 38 shots, the second-highest save total he has recorded this season.

Next up for the North Stars is a familiar foe in the Kindersley Klippers, who visit the Civic Centre on Tuesday for the fourth time this season. The two rivals met not long ago, with the North Stars blowing a 2-0 lead in Kindersley on Jan. 23 and losing 4-2.

After that, the North Stars host Estevan and then Melville on Friday and Saturday.

The following week, the North Stars play four times at home, on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

 

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