If not for a lone breakaway, the Prince Albert Mintos might have wound up on the winning side of a tight, gritty Saturday game against the visiting Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League action.
But with 7:27 left to go in the game, Hounds defenceman Avery Winslow managed to find a crack in the Mintos’ otherwise solid defence and score the only goal of the night at the Art Hauser Centre for the win.
Winslow had just stepped out of the penalty box after serving 2 minutes for a boarding infraction he committed against Mintos forward Josh Pillar.
The defenceman left the penalty box, remained behind and off the radar of Prince Albert’s defencemen, and then received a pass from teammate Coalson Wolford in open ice for a clear path to Mintos netminder Cale Elder.
Winslow fired a forehand wrist shot to beat Elder and put his team up 1-0, scoring what would be the game-winning goal.
Despite missing three key skaters from their lineup – Austin Lamotte, Luke Nkwama and Kyrell Sopotyk – the Mintos overcame a sluggish first period and continued chipping away at the Hounds’ defensive systems in the second and third periods.
The P.A. squad built up enough momentum through the second period and the first 12 minutes of the third period to sustain some offensive-zone pressure against the Hounds.
“I thought our team played really well. We got pucks deep,” Elder said. “We were missing a few key guys, and everyone battled as hard as they could. Some guys that aren’t used to playing as much, they stepped up and played amazing, so we had a good team effort.”
After 40 minutes of play, the Hounds outshot the Mintos 25-12. Elder’s poise in goal was an important factor in keeping his team in the game. He finished the night with 35 saves on 36 shots.
After the game, he commended his teammates for keeping his shot lanes open, clearing Hounds forwards out of his crease and blocking Notre Dame’s shots.
Much like the teams’ Jan. 29 game in P.A., during which Notre Dame won 2-0, the Hounds found success on Saturday with systematic defensive zone and neutral zone play that tended to box out the Mintos’ scoring chances and passing plays.
Notre Dame also used a high-pressure, two-player forecheck to try disrupting the Mintos’ passing out of their zone. The Hounds’ defencemen and forwards only allowed P.A. to shoot 14 times on goalie Riley Kohonick, who earned his fourth consecutive shutout.
P.A. head coach Ken Morrison said he was happy with his team’s effort.
“I thought Elder had a strong game. We got out-shot quite a bit. (Notre Dame) is a good team. Our guys played hard, and that’s all you can really ask. That’s what we wanted to do,” he said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t generate much offence, and that’s in large part due to them.”
He said his team’s effort shows that if the Mintos play hard, together as a cohesive unit, they’re a good team and have a chance to beat any team in the league.
“As soon as we get away from that team-game and we don’t work hard, we’re pretty average.”
Mintos alternate captain Alex Moar agreed.
He said his team needs to improve on the simple, mental mistakes it makes, particularly those that occur in the third periods of games.
The Mintos (29-9-2-1) next play against the Beardy’s Blackhawks (13-22-2-2) on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Willow Cree Memorial Sports Centre on the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation.
Including their Sunday game, the Mintos have three games remaining until the playoffs start later this month.