Mintos get ‘wake-up call’ in game 1 vs. Hounds

Prince Albert Mintos captain Kyrell Sopotyk (12) avoids a check from Notre Dame Hound Ryker Evans (15), while he and Notre Dame forward Stanley Cooley pursue the puck in the teams' first game of the SMAAAHL final series in Wilcox, Sask., on March 21, 2018. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Notre Dame beats Prince Albert 3-1 in opening game of league championship final round

Heading into their Midget AAA Hockey League championship series against the Notre Dame Hounds, the Prince Albert Mintos knew they had to stay disciplined and keep the Hounds power play unit off the ice.

They were right, and it cost them in game 1 of the teams’ best-of-five series for the provincial title.

The Hounds beat the Mintos 3-1, due in large part to two power play goals from Notre Dame forward Nolan Renwick, scored in the first and the third periods; the 17-year-old opened and closed the game’s scoring, helping his team to the home-ice win.

“It was a strong game we played, and we set the tone in the series early, and that’s good for us,” Notre Dame captain Cody Lehner said of the win.

While the Hounds were heavy on the physicality, the Mintos were not playing their best hockey, according to head coach Ken Morrison.

“They kind of took it to us. I thought we were good in the third. But we got away from our game. I mean they’re a good team, and we have to be at our best, and we weren’t at our best,” he said.

Prince Albert and Notre Dame opened the game to a scoreless draw through the first 14 minutes of play. The Hounds came out fast with heavy body checking, which disrupted some of the Mintos’ passes and puck movement systems.

But P.A. managed to get some shots on goalie Riley Kohonick’s net; Mintos netminder Cale Elder also held his own with some key saves to keep the game tied at 0-0.

After the Mintos successfully killed off a penalty at the mid-point of the period, the Hounds went on the power play again, just before the 14-minute mark.

Instead of cycling the puck around and through stationary skaters while on the man-advantage, the Hounds rotated and cycled themselves into and out of different positions while moving the puck in the Mintos’ zone; one player moved into the slot area in front of Elder, only to be replaced by a new player about five seconds later, while the puck continued to be passed around by the Hounds.

Renwick soon converted his attempt to make the game 1-0 for his side after 20 minutes of play.

Fellow Hounds forward Brad Morrissey made it 2-0 in the second period at 15:24 on an even-strength goal.

To start the third frame, Prince Albert came out with jump and poise, controlling puck-possession time and body checking through the first 11 minutes.

Their efforts were rewarded.

While on the forecheck, forward Austin Lamotte created a turnover behind the Hounds’ goal line. He passed it out to a waiting Kyrell Sopotyk, who had slipped past the Hounds’ defence and was open in front of Kohonick.

Prince Albert Mintos forward Austin Lamotte (19) follows Notre Dame Hounds forward Brad Morrissey (20) after Morrissey dumps the puck behind him during game 1 of the teams’ SMAAAHL final series in Wilcox, Sask., on March 21, 2018. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

He converted his forehand shot top shelf on the Hounds’ net to put the Mintos on the score board at 5:33. His line-mate, Josh Pillar, also assisted on the goal.

“We know we can score offensively,” Sopotyk said. “We just need to stick to our game. In the third (period), we kind of had some momentum which went our way, but we need to be good all game.”

While on the power play in the latter half of the frame, the Mintos incurred another penalty, which gave the Hounds about 1:30 on the man-advantage.

Renwick converted another goal, at 12:59: As he cycled into the slot area just in front of Elder’s crease, he tipped in a point shot from Morrissey for the score, which sealed the Hounds’ win.

After the game, Morrison talked about some of his team’s improvement areas.

“We only played in spurts. We got beat to the puck a lot; we got out-battled. We were throwing muffins into the middle, into nowhere. It seemed like we were nervous or something.”

Sopotyk emphasized there should be no excuses for his team’s play, but he too spoke of nerves going into the game.

“First game of the series, I know some of the guys were a bit nervous. Personally, I was nervous – it’s a big game; championship, so just nervous. But I think we’re ready to go Saturday,” he said.

Morrison echoed those comments, looking ahead to game 2.

“It’s a good wake-up call. It’s a long series. We’ve got a chance to regroup. It comes down to how much they want it, and we go from there.”

Game 2 in the best-of-five series is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Prince Albert’s Art Hauser Centre.

Elder finished Wednesday’s game with 30 saves on 33 Hounds’ shots; Kohonick saved 22 of 23 Mintos’ shots.

The Mintos incurred six penalties, while the Hounds incurred two, a point that Morrison noted, but he didn’t mention the game’s officials. He said that such penalty differentials seem typical at Notre Dame.

While the Hounds did play a physical, heavy-checking style of game, their forwards appeared to have a tendency for throwing their elbows and their shoulders towards the Mintos’ heads when finishing checks.

This reporter observed an error by the game’s officials within the final five minutes of the third period.

Mintos forward Parker Fofonoff carried the puck out of the Mintos’ zone and into the neutral zone. Just before he reached the centre-line, he dumped the puck into the Hounds zone. A Notre Dame skater continued towards Fofonoff in an attempt to finish his check, but he aimed his elbows and his forearms at Fofonoff’s head. The Mintos skater managed to put up his arms to protect his head and turn away from the contact at the last second.

No call was made by the officials.