It had been a long two months for Prince Albert Mintos netminder Spencer Welke has he was sidelined with a knee injury since a road game against the Battlefords Stars on Dec. 10.
The Regina Pats prospect finally got the chance to go back between the pipes on Saturday night against one of the top teams in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League this season as the Moose Jaw Warriors visited the Art Hauser Centre.
“There’s obviously a bit of frustration there when you go through an injury and I was itching to get back out there,” Welke said. “I was thrown into the line of fire early against a top team like that and it was pretty exciting. It felt like a playoff atmosphere out there.”
After keeping his team in the game with several stops in the early minutes, the Mintos helped out Welke with a trifecta of goals in the third period as they came away with a 4-2 triumph over the Warriors.
“You have no clue how happy we are for him to get the win,” Mintos blueliner Marek Schneider said. “He’s been working hard to get back out there every single day and it’s great for him to get a victory like that against one of the best teams in the league.”
“It’s been well-documented the amazing job that Joel (Favreau) has done in Spencer’s absence, but it’s great to see him back in the net again and to have a really good game as well,” Mintos head coach Danton Danielson added.
Although Welke’s 33-save showing was an important part of the Mintos’ win, which was their second in a row, the turning point in the contest came in the opening 67 seconds of the final frame.
Dawson Springer got a shot past Chase Coward after 30 seconds of play to tie things up at two and Ashton Ferster put the hosts out in front for good 37 seconds later as he outwaited the Warriors netminder before sliding the puck home.
“There were all kinds of ups and downs throughout this game,” Danielson said.
“We haven’t seen Moose Jaw since the middle of November and I think it took us a little bit to adjust to how they play. We began to get our legs underneath us there with about five minutes left in the first and started to figure things out a bit, which led to us having a really good third period.”
Turner McMillen, who leads the Mintos in scoring this season with 35 points, sealed the deal with 3:15 to go as he raced out of the penalty box just as his team started a power play and converted his breakaway attempt for his second goal of the night.
“That was probably his best game of the year,” Danielson said of the 17-year-old Carievale product, who celebrated his birthday last weekend by playing in his first two Western Hockey League contests for the Kelowna Rockets.
“There were some times early on in the season where I know he was a bit frustrated about not being able to cash in offensively, but that’s really started to come around for him here as of late.”
Kayden Skulmoski and Chase Bertholet had two assists each for the 25-14-1-0 Mintos, who were tied for fifth in the SMAAAHL standings with the Notre Dame Hounds heading into Sunday’s slate of games.
Ben Wourms-Rowe paced the way on offence for the visitors with a goal and an assist, while Kyle Forster also lit the lamp.
Corward turned aside 20 shots for the 28-10-0-1 Warriors, who have lost their last two games and are now four points back of the league-leading Regina Pat Canadians, in addition to having the Saskatoon Contacts and the Saskatoon Blazers sitting one and two points behind them respectively.
The Mintos will conclude their regular season home slate on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Tisdale Trojans before starting a three-game road trip next Friday against the Blazers.
“The little details are what’s most important right now as we get closer to the playoffs,” Schneider said. “Our coaches have really been harping on that in practice as the thing we need to work on if we want to be at our best.
“I think our team did the jobs that no one wanted to do tonight against Moose Jaw, such as blocking shots and putting in the hard work. We came out and gave a Minto effort.”