Depth players lift Mintos over Blackhawks

Prince Albert Mintos forward Luke Nkwama skates around a Beardy's Blackhawks defender for a shot on Blackhawks goalie Kobey Clarke during the second period of their Dec. 12, 2017 game from Prince Albert. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Despite being absent three of its key players, the Prince Albert Mintos beat the Beardy’s Blackhawks 4-3 Tuesday evening, the third time in three games this season for the Midget AAA boys hockey club.

While defenceman Alex Moar and forwards Kishaun Gervais and Kyrell Sopotyk missed the game, the Mintos’ depth players carried the team to victory.

Relying on a systematic passing game, offensive support from their defencemen and stable goaltending from Cale Elder, the Mintos emerged the winners on Hunter Schnell’s third period game-winning goal.

At 8:17 Schnell tipped in defenceman Alex Ozar’s point shot past Beardy’s goalie Kobey Clarke.

Ozar’s assist on the score was the fifth point earned by the Mintos’ defencemen, who had a productive night in the Blackhawks’ zone: Ozar had two assists, fellow defenceman Kade McMillen scored two goals and defensive partner Jaden Mayer notched an assist in the first period.

After the game, Ozar said the game plan was simple for his unit.

“Just trying to get pucks through; try not to get shots blocked, and if it gets to the front of the net, hopefully our forwards jam it in, and they did.”

Along with Ozar, Mayer, Schnell and forward Dylan Scriven are rookies on the team this season. (Scriven opened the scoring for his team with an early first period goal.)

After the game, head coach Ken Morrison gave his depth players the nod when considering their role in the win.

“We needed that tonight or we wouldn’t have beat them,” he said. “These guys stepped up. They played really well the last few games. We need everybody contributing and I thought they did fine.”

He also praised the play of rookie Brandon Von Hagen, who was held off the game’s score sheet.

After skating around a Beardy’s Blackhawks defender, Prince Albert Mintos forward Luke Nkwama shoots on Blackhawks goalie Kobey Clarke during the second period of their Dec. 12, 2017 game from Prince Albert. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Fellow rookie forward Luke Nkwama – also held off the score sheet – was a frequent thorn in the Blackhawks’ side all game.

Whether dangling around Beardy’s defenders, transitioning the play to his opponent’s zone or digging the puck out of the corner, Nkwama often disrupted the Blackhawks’ systems.

For his part, Elder said his teammates in front of him made the job easy.

“I think the team played pretty well and they helped me see all the shots. It was nice in that way.”

As for his defence, Elder said, “It was really good. They got guys out of the way in front of the net.

“(In the offensive zone), our forwards passed the puck to them up at the blue line, and they got shots through; the puck just went our way,” he said.

Elder finished the game with 33 saves on 36 Blackhawks’ shots, earning his tenth win of the season.

The Mintos now sit in third place of the 12-team provincial Midget AAA hockey league. They have 38 points by way of 18 wins, four losses and two shootout losses; they sit three points back of the first-place Notre Dame Hounds.

The Mintos’ staff were busy throughout the game on Tuesday, collecting non-perishable food donations for the Prince Albert Food Bank.

Prince Albert Mintos staff members Lori Pichette (left) and Jean Markowsky stand next to food donated by fans and attendees at their Dec. 12, 2017 game. The team will donate the food to the P.A. Food Bank. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Fans and attendees piled cans, boxes, packages, packets and bags of food onto a large table in the Art Hauser Centre’s lobby. By the night’s end, the team’s staff had packed up 10 cardboard boxes of food.

They weren’t done there.

Four cases of soup, a box of oatmeal, a case of Kraft Dinner and a set Mr. Noodles packets sat atop the 10 boxes.