Mintos win nail-biter, remain undefeated

Prince Albert Mintos forward Luke Nkwama shoots on Saskatoon Contacts goalie Rayce Ramsay, who turns aside the shot in Midget AAA boys hockey at the Art Hauser Centre, Oct. 5, 2017. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Despite playing sluggish and sloppy through the first period, the Prince Albert Mintos remain undefeated after a 3-2 win over the Saskatoon Contacts in Midget AAA boys hockey.

The Mintos gained the lead, gave it up, gained it again, allowed a tie and then waited until the game’s last two minutes to take and keep the lead on a Dylan Scriven backhand shot to secure their third goal and the win.

Positioned in the low slot and just behind Saskatoon’s defence, Scriven found himself open in front of goalie Rayce Ramsay as his teammates dug the puck out of the corner, away from the other Contacts.

Josh Pillar managed to bat the puck over to Scriven, who used the few extra seconds afforded to him in the open slot to do a quick deke and force Ramsay down to cover the lower portion of the net.

Scriven went the opposite way, flicked the puck quickly over Scriven’s shoulders and celebrated the goal.

The game clock counted 1:19 until the final buzzer.

“Luckily enough I got a good chip from Pillar out front, and I just tried to put it on net, and it went in,” Scriven said after the game.

It was his first Midget AAA goal.

“It almost felt unreal – in front of my hometown, getting the game winner, first home game; it was just a great experience. I’m just happy it happened,” he said.

With the win, the Mintos improve to 4-0. They now sit in second place, down one point, behind the Tisdale Trojans and ahead of the Notre Dame Hounds in the provincial standings.

Thursday’s game, the Mintos’ home opener for the year, was a close one for both teams.

Saskatoon relied heavily on its bigger players and their checking abilities, which managed to foil several Mintos’ rushes through the neutral zone.

As the Contacts relied on their physical prowess, the Mintos found holes on the ice that allowed them to speed through as they created several turnovers and rush opportunities.

Still, P.A. head coach Ken Morrison said the game was the team’s weakest of the season.

“On the other hand, we stuck with it. Good teams will find a way to win, and we found a way to win. I don’t really know if we deserved to win or not tonight,” Morrison said.

The Mintos started the game with a sloppy period that saw the team commit several errant passes and failed play setups on the few times that they managed to get and keep the puck in the Contacts’ zone.

Meanwhile, Saskatoon came out hitting, using every opportunity it had to finish body checks.

The period ended 0-0 with Saskatoon leading the shot count at 9-7.

As the second period progressed, the Mintos found their legs and some rhythm as their speed players completed more of their passes while moving the puck down the ice and into the Contacts’ zone.

Puck possession was mostly even throughout the second frame, but P.A. forwards Kishaun Gervais and Luke Nkwama powered their team’s offence. The pair skated around and through Saskatoon’s defence using their speed, and adding more pressure to Ramsay as the night progressed.

The pair’s hustle paid off as Parker Fofonoff scored after a Ramsay rebound, thanks to Nkwama who carried the puck into Saskatoon’s zone around two defenders.

At the period’s end, the Mintos were up 1-0, but still down in the shot count at 17-14. Physically, Saskatoon was winning the body checking battles, but speed-wise it was beginning to tire.

“They do a good job of playing the body for sure. We gotta get on the body a little bit more on the forecheck,” Morrison said of the game’s physicality.

The third period leaned more to the Mintos’ favour in terms of scoring chances and puck possession, but Saskatoon managed to take the lead and go up 2-1 with 9 minutes left in the game.

The Mintos kept pressing and tied the game with five minutes remaining: Gervais sped down the ice, split the Contacts’ defenders just over the blue line and backhanded the puck over top of Ramsay; it bounced off of his backside and into the net.

Soon after, Scriven potted the winner.

The game’s final shot count was 34-32 for the Mintos.

Morrison chalked up his team’s fatigue to its recent busy schedule over the past week: The Mintos played back-to-back games in Warman over the weekend, followed by a late-night, 8 p.m. game against the Saskatoon Blazers on Wednesday night.

He said Friday will likely be a rest day, and Saturday morning will be a light workout in preparation for his team’s 7 p.m. game against the visiting Regina Pat Canadians that evening.