A dominant start by the Prince Albert Mintos proved to be huge in more ways than one on Sunday evening at the Rod Hamm Memorial Arena.
After watching a 5-0 lead disappear, the Mintos scored twice in the final five minutes and held off a frantic flurry from the Saskatoon Blazers to pick up a 7-6 win in the opening contest of their best-of-five Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League quarter-final series.
“We did the little things right early on,” Mintos head coach Ken Morrison said. “We were forechecking well and we were playing with a lot of intensity.
“We got the lead and started to sit back on our heels a bit. We let them crawl back into the game and we weren’t really playing our game.”
After a three-goal first period, the sixth-seeded Mintos looked to have things well in hand after scoring twice in the late stages of the second stanza.
That’s when the third-ranked Blazers came to life, as they scored twice in the final 84 seconds of the middle frame and evened the game up with 14:04 to go after finding the net three times in a span that lasted a little over three minutes.
“When they got that one goal off of a faceoff there before the end of the period, that was a bit of a downer for us as it would have been nice to have a four-goal lead going into the third,” Morrison said.
“Saskatoon is a good team and they were able to make that three goal lead disappear pretty quickly. We tried not to panic though and we were rewarded with a big power play goal.”
Blake Duquette would put the Mintos back in front with 5:07 to go as he converted a great feed from Gavin Ingram while on the man advantage.
Ingram would then score a shorthanded empty net goal with 1:22 left on the clock, but his most important play came with a handful of seconds to go.
Moments after Nolan Allan has brought the Blazers back within one with a six-on-three power play marker, Ingram made a key block on a Josh Nagy shot to prevent the game from going to overtime.
“That’s the kind of heart and soul performance that we are used to seeing from Gavin,” Morrison said. “I think he ended up taking that shot near the neck area and it’s a good thing that ‘Woodie’ (goaltender Carter Woodside) was able to cover the puck up, because Gavin was down and out.
“Everyone was paying the price at the end, especially when we got into penalty trouble there. It was like the refs were trying to give them a chance to tie it up.”
Morrison’s displeasure with those late calls might have played a part in a game misconduct penalty that was given to the bench at the final buzzer, which may lead to him missing the second matchup between the Mintos and Blazers at the Art Hauser Centre on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Ingram had a two goals and an assist in the victory, while Prince Albert Raiders prospect Cohner Saleski had a goal and two helpers.
Duquette picked up an assist to go along with his key power play goal in the third period and Saskatoon Blades prospect Alex Ozar helped to set up a pair of goals.
Alex Von Sprecken, Ethan Ironside and Andrew Schaab also scored for the Mintos, who received 35 saves from Regina Pats prospect Woodside.
Although Blazers head coach Scott Scissons was pleased with the effort his team showed in coming back, their start to the first game of the playoffs left him disappointed.
“Prince Albert’s a good team and they taught us a lesson in how to play hockey at this time of the season in the first half of the game,” Scissons said.
“They were a lot more urgent than we were and we just sat back. The guys did a better job of moving their feet and reacting to the situations as the game wore on, but we’ll need to come out better than that going forward.”
Allan, who the Raiders selected with the third overall pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, turned in his most dominant performance of the season Sunday as he scored two goals and set up three others to lead the comeback charge for the Blazers.
That single game performance moved him into a tie with Regina Pat Canadians forward Cole Sillinger for the playoff scoring lead, thought it took the Medicine Hat Tigers prospect two games to record that many points.
Alec Saretzky and Nagy each had two-point evenings for the hosts, who also got goals from Riley Little, Hayden Wilm and affiliated player Charlie Keller.
Pats prospect Pesenti made 20 saves in a losing effort.
Following Wednesday’s matchup in Prince Albert, the two sides will return to the Rod Hamm Memorial Arena for a 7:45 p.m. contest Friday.
If needed, game four would take place at the Art Hauser Centre at 7 p.m. Saturday, while a fifth and deciding affair would be held in Saskatoon at 5 p.m. next Sunday.
Meanwhile, the other three SMAAAHL quarter-final series got underway this weekend.
The top-ranked Pat Canadians picked up a pair of victories over the eight-seeded Saskatoon Contacts and can punch their ticket to the semifinal on Tuesday night in Regina.
The second seeded Tisdale Trojans can also complete a clean sweep on home ice Tuesday after a two-win weekend against the seventh ranked Beardy’s Blackhawks.
Meanwhile, the fourth seeded Notre Dame Hounds kicked off their Telus Cup title defence with a 3-2 triumph over the fifth ranked Swift Current Legionnaires in Wilcox on Saturday.
That series resumes Monday evening in Swift Current.