The score indicated things were close, but the shots on goal did not.
What was clear, however, after Friday's 4-3 regulation loss to Melfort, was the criticism of the Battlefords North Stars effort from their head coach.
"We got outworked," Brandon Heck said in the post-game interview on CJNB/CJNS. "I don't think I liked one of our player's performances, other than our goaltender, who kept us in. It was a very disappointing effort. Players didn't want to pay the price for the win and the [Mustangs] would do whatever it took."
The shots favoured the Mustangs 38-23 in the end, including 13-6 in the third, as North Stars goaltender Joel Grzybowski held them in with 34 saves.
"He was good the whole way through," Heck said. "He made a lot of big saves and read their rush and shots, and dealt with a lot of traffic."
After a 5-0 win over Weyburn on Monday, the North Stars carried that momentum and began strong Friday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Brad Girard and Cole Johnson.
But those first six minutes were just about the only consistent strong play from the visitors, whose record after the loss dropped to 39-12-2 this season.
"We started out good, then we got a 4-on-3 power play and we stayed [on the] perimeter and didn't shoot the puck," Heck said. "We gave them momentum. I thought that was a chance to take control. We didn't buy into shooting the puck. We had to pass it in. And we gave up a 2-on-1 on [that power play] and the momentum changed ever since then."
Melfort's power play went 3-for-6, thanks to goals from captain Andrew Thompson, former North Star Ben Allen, and Colin Schmidt, who netted the game-winner with 5:18 to go in regulation.
Allen and Schmidt's powerplay goals came after the North Stars entered the final period with a 3-2 lead, thanks to a go-ahead goal from Owen Lamb.
It was the fifth time this season the North Stars had blown a lead entering the third.
"Three goals against; all three times we had the puck on our stick and a soft play not getting it out," Heck said of the team's penalty kill, which entered the game ranked first in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League at 86.6 per cent. "We're a tough team to get set up on when guys bare down and make a play and are willing to take a hit. No excuse for a few of them and it cost us. We didn't have our A-game and we could have found a way to win with our goaltender if we had bore down on the penalty kill and got some pucks out."
Battlefords won't play again this weekend, as they have a week off before hosting Humboldt on March 2. They travel to Humboldt to finish off the home-and-home next Saturday.
"I think there are some guys that have got to prove some things to their teammates," Heck added. "It wasn't very good for a lot of guys."
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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