It looked like a different team.
That's probably because it essentially was.
Just five players from the North Stars pre-season loss on Sunday dressed for Monday's rematch against the Bonnyville Pontiacs, and the result was a 2-1 win rather than a 5-2 loss.
North Stars head coach Brandon Heck said faceoff improvement was a big reason why.
"One thing that was big time cleaned up was the faceoffs," Heck said after his first career North Stars win. "In Bonnyville, we were lucky if we were 33 per cent. We were less than that after two periods and tonight we finished 50 per cent. Still not good enough, but when you start with the puck it's a lot easier.
"We just had better legs. A better forecheck. We made them make mistakes."
Another thing that helped was a skate on Monday morning ahead of the game.
"We got a practice under our belt too," Heck added. "So it was definitely better. Let's [also] call a spade a spade: they didn't ice as strong a lineup tonight as they did yesterday too so it's different. But we were definitely hungrier and played with more emotion tonight."
Leading the way for the North Stars (not surprisingly) was the duo of Layne Young and MacGregor Sinclair.
Sinclair had two goals, the first of which came on a crease scramble on an early 5-on-3 powerplay and the second of which came via a shot that went off the crossbar and in.
"[The first goal] Young shot the puck and the puck was just laying there and the goalie kicked it to my stick and I poked it in. Pretty simple," Sinclair said, when asked to tell his two goals from his point of view. "Second one, right from Young again, and that one was a really nice pass. He gave me about three or four seconds in the slot and I guess the goalie just thought I was passing and I snuck one by."
Heck said Sinclair's strength is his two-way game.
That's part of why it was no surprise to see Sinclair killing penalties as well on Monday, which he did all of last season for then coach Nate Bedford.
"If he starts cheating for offence, then he's not going to be as effective," Heck said. "We relied on him to take draws and play smart. Sometimes when players play with him, they play better. He's one one of those guys that can do that."
A full, 200-foot game is something Sinclair said he focuses on.
"I think I said it last year and hopefully I can play like it again, but I like to play like [Pavel] Datsyuk," Sinclair said. "I might not have the mitts like him, but I like to take the puck away from other guys so hopefully I can continue to do that this year."
Young and Sinclair were joined on the top line by Dakota Huebner.
Huebner, from Le Duc, Alta., looked right at home.
"The second goal was created by him taking a hit to make a play," Heck said of Huebner. "He's another one that we'd like him to put some more chances away but he showed he can play with top guys for sure."
Last season, Huebner played junior B hockey and recorded 27 points in 27 games. He's a 1998-born forward, meaning he has this year and next left in his junior eligibility.
The 19-year-old spoke highly of his linemates following Monday's game.
"They're good veterans. I think they helped me out quite a bit," Huebner said. "This is my first actual Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and they walked me through, which is nice. Having them on my line; they're some of the best two-way players, Sinclair for sure.
"Young is an all-around player. He battles hard. He works his ass off. They both do. Young just bings goals all the time."
Taryn Kotchorek played two periods on Monday and stopped all 18 shots he faced, while Jake Taylor played just one period and made four saves on five shots.
The North Stars will play at home again on Tuesday night, this time welcoming divisional adversary Humboldt.
The lineup will likely look quite different. Heck didn't say specifics, other than that Irma, Alta., native Austin Prior will start in goal. Prior allowed just one goal in the intrasquad game, while suiting up for team white.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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