It’s rare when the final score isn’t the most newsworthy part of a hockey game.
This was one of those occasions.
While the Prince Albert Mintos sent fans home happy with a 5-2 victory over the Notre Dame Hounds on Sunday, players, coaches, spectators and board members were smiling for a very different reason. For the first time since he left the hospital, former Minto and Humboldt Broncos defenceman Layne Matechuk was back at the Art Hauser Centre.
“It’s really good to see him,” Minto coach Ken Morrison said. “He’s travelling all over. He was in Toronto and got to go to the Leafs dressing room and he’s going to meet (Sidney) Crosby in March and stuff like that. He’s a world traveller and gets to do a bunch of cool things. It was good to have him here.”
There were plenty of smiles as Matechuk and his parents, Kevin and Shelley, arrived for Sunday’s afternoon matinee. The club arranged for a special pre-game ceremony, where they presented him with a bronzed hockey stick created by sculptor Thomas Schultz. The words “once a Minto, always a Minto” were inscribed on the blade.
“It feels pretty good (to be back),” Matechuck said afterwards. “I miss being a Minto.”
“We have a lot of great, great memories here in this building,” added his father, Kevin. “It’s just heartwarming to come back and for them to do this for us. We’re really touched. We’re happy to be here, as you can see by the smile on Layne’s face.”
Matechuk has come a long way since he left Saskatoon City Hospital in October, but there’s still a significant journey ahead before he’s completely healthy. When he left the hospital he struggled to speak more than a word or two at a time. On Sunday, he spoke in slow, deliberate sentences only a few words long. His smile, on the other hand, came quickly and easily. You could see it from the other side of the rink, beaming out from underneath a black Pittsburgh Penguins ball cap.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Morrison said. “(I’m) just glad to see him up and around, and glad to see he’s doing good.”
While the Mintos jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead, Matechuk spent time with former teammates Braden Schneider, Kyrell Sopotyk and Alex Moar. After the game, he made a short appearance in the Minto dressing room, where the music stopped blaring the second he walked in. Once a Minto, always a Minto.
“I remember watching him play and he was a really good player. It’s just good to see him come back,” Mintos captain Alex Ozar said afterwards. “To honour him in that way is real special.”
Ozar hat trick propels Mintos past Hounds
First period goals from Chase Bertholet and Logan Cox, and a hat trick from captain Alex Ozar were enough for the Prince Albert Mintos to defeat the Notre Dame Hounds 5-2 during Midget AAA action at the Art Hauser Centre.
Goaltender Carter Woodside had 33 saves for the Mintos, who held off a late third period charge from the Hounds to win their second game in a row and pull into a tie for fifth place in the SMAAAHL.
“For the first two periods that was the best I’ve seen in a while from our guys,” Mintos coach Ken Morrison said after the game. “We’re playing shorthanded and some of the guys really rose up and played how we want them to play.”
Bertholet opened the scoring, with the lone assist to Marek Schneider, at 11:08 of the first period. Cox added to the lead roughly two-and-a-half minutes later. His shot barely squeezed between the pads of Hounds starting goaltender Bryan Thompson.
“I thought we worked really hard in the first two periods and it helped us pull away,” said forward Dawson Springer, who assisted on Cox’s goal, along with defenceman Jake Huska. “But, I think that we need to work on getting in a full 60 (minutes) to really seal the deal.”
Prince Albert’s success continued into the second frame. Ozar scored less than two minutes into the period on one of the strangest goals of his career. The Minto captain fired a shot on goal from his own end of the ice, only to have it dip under the paddle of Thompson’s goal stick and skitter into the net.
“I was surprised by that one,” Ozar said. “We were in our end for a long time and I wanted to get a change, but I didn’t want to ice the puck, so I just tried to get it on net. I was skating to the bench and everyone started cheering. It caught me by surprise.”
“After he scored that one from his own end I said, ‘see what happens when you shoot it low and hit the net,’” Morrison chuckled. “We had a good chuckle about that, but he played well. I thought we had good puck movement on the power play, and when he got it he did a good job.”
Hounds backup Thomas Wardle replaced Thomson in the net following the goal, but it didn’t do much to stop the Mintos onslaught. Ozar struck again with less than six minutes to go with his first power play goal during a penalty filled second period.
Down 4-0, the visitors found new life entering the third period. Colson Wolford broke the shutout bid just 47 seconds into the final frame, and Jayce Nikbakht added another just past the halfway point to make it 4-2.
The Hounds outplayed and outshot the Mintos in the third period, but were unable to close the deficit. Ozar’s third goal of the game, again on the power play, ended any hope of a comeback.
Although Morrison was pleased with his team’s overall play, the final period was concerning.
“The momentum was swinging in their favour,” he conceded. “It didn’t look good for us for a while. It could have gone the other way pretty quick based on how we were playing, but you learn from it and move forward.”
The win gives the Mintos a 14-13-1 record heading into Thursday’s game against the Beardy’s Blackhawks. The Hounds fall to 13-8-3. Both teams are tied for fifth place in the league standings.
Thursday’s game at the Art Hauser Centre is the club’s annual food bank game. Attendees are encouraged to bring a non-perishable item for the Prince Albert Food Bank. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
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