The Prince Albert Mintos used their hard, fast-paced forechecking and steady play from goalie Cale Elder to drop the Saskatoon Contacts 5-1 in the first of the teams’ best-of-five, round 1 playoff series Friday night from P.A.
The game was the first time this season between the two Midget AAA hockey teams that one side won by multiple goals; through three wins and one loss during the regular season to the Contacts, the difference was always one score for the Mintos.
Not so on Friday.
The P.A. club used a dominant, high-energy first period to carry themselves through the game to victory, finding offensive success in all three periods.
“I thought our guys were ready to play and got a good start,” Mintos coach Ken Morrison said of the win. “We did the things we wanted to do – shared the puck, got pucks deep and got on the forecheck … it was a good team effort.”
Sporting orange- and yellow-and-green-dyed hair for their respective sides, each team had a bit of extra pep in their play as the puck dropped on the playoff tilt.
It was the Mintos who capitalized on that initial rush of energy; they found early success on an Austin Lamotte goal just before the nine minute mark to go up 1-0.
The P.A. club then grabbed more momentum, after Parker Fofonoff scored a short-handed goal at 16:06. It would prove to be the game-winner.
After creating a turnover toward the Mintos’ side of the ice, Fofonoff out-skated his opponent to the blue line to grab the loose puck and create a breakaway for himself on Saskatoon goalie Rayce Ramsay. As Ramsay gradually backed deeper into his crease, Fofonoff snuck a quick forehand shot top-shelf past Ramsay to put his side up 2-0.
Lamotte had a similar, even-strength score almost eight minutes into the second period. The only difference was he went with a backhand for his breakaway deke move.
Mintos capain Kyrell Sopotyk opened the scoring for the third period. As line mate Josh Pillar worked the puck down low in the Conacts’ corner, Sopotyk parked himself to the left side of Ramsay. Pillar fed Sopotyk the puck, and the captain slid it underneath a screened Ramsay for the score.
“It’s good. It’s exciting to be back. I want to do whatever I can to help the team win here. It’s very exciting,” Sopotyk said of getting back on the ice.
After spending the first half the regular season sidelined due to injury, Sopotyk saw his first game action in Calgary at the Mac’s tournament, and he continued that into regular season play with the Mintos for all of January. He tallied 11 points through nine games during the month.
But he had to sit out the team’s remaining February games due to injury. Given that, getting the start Friday took on special meaning for him, beyond the knock-out implications of playoff hockey.
“It’s like the season’s just starting. It’s exciting … it’s a new season, and everyone’s trying hard to do whatever we can to win,” he said.
Morrison underscored the importance of having Sopotyk back, how it energized the team.
“He’s such a good player and a quality person. He’ll give you 110 per cent all the time … It’s tough when you haven’t played for a long time; then he came back for a bit and then got hurt again and had to sit; now he’s back.
“It’s not easy to just show up and start playing in the playoffs,” the Mintos coach said.
Contacts’ alternate captain Eli Lieffers managed to put his team on the board shortly after Sopotyk’s goal. But that was the only time the Contacts found the back of the net.
To cap off P.A.’s scoring, Jaxon Tait appeared to deflect in a point shot form Jaden Mayer to make final score 5-1. But the online scoring summary lists Turner Rea as the goal scorer and the assist as coming from Kishaun Gervais.
The teams will head to Saskatoon on Sunday for game 2 of the series. Game time is 2:45 p.m. at the city’s Schroh Arena.
Morrison emphasized an even-keel approach as the team readies itself for that contest. “Never too high, never too low with these games. We’ve gotta forget about tonight, and then regroup, and come ready to play on Sunday down there.”