The Estevan Bruins put an exclamation mark on the end of their 4-game Northern Road Trip on Saturday night, capping off another impressive performance with a 6-5 victory over the Nipawin Hawks.
After dropping the first game of the road trip in Melfort, the Bruins rattled off back-to-back wins over La Ronge (6-5 SO) and Flin Flon (5-4 OT). Saturday night’s game in Nipawin would then have the most influence on the standings, with the Bruins looking to climb closer to passing Nipawin for 6th overall before the end of the regular season.
With a large crowd inside the Centennial Arena on Saturday, the game had a playoff-feel from the opening faceoff and continued until the final buzzer. However, it would be the Bruins jumping out to an early lead on the road.
On an early powerplay, Isaiah Thomas sent a perfect pass to Eddie Gallagher who blasted a one-timer past Nipawin’s Ross Hawryluk for an early 1-0 lead. Tanner Manz also assisted on the goal at the 2:42 mark.
Later in the period at 10:57, Caleb Petrie would track down a loose puck in the corner and toss a pass in front to Ryder Pierson charging the net. Pierson deflected home his 3rd of the season to increase the lead to 2-0, with Mason Strutt also drawing an assist on the goal.
The Bruins carried that lead into the 2nd period, but Nipawin would get one goal back quickly as Davis Chorney beat Bruins’ goaltender Keenan Rancier to make it 2-1 just 2:34 into the middle frame. But just a minute later, Greyson Stewart would be issued a 5-minute major for cross-checking Petrie in the face to kick off an extremely hostile period between the two teams.
The Bruins’ red-hot powerplay would make Nipawin pay, scoring twice on the major. First it would be Cody Davis batting home a pass in front from Griffin Asham-Moroz to increase the lead to 3-1 at the 5:25 mark. Kade McMillen also assisted on the goal.
Just over a minute later at 6:30, Jayden Davis would pass to McMillen who backhanded a shot towards the net which Gallagher deflected perfectly into the top corner to make it 4-1 Bruins on Gallagher’s 2nd of the game and 15th of the season.
After Nipawin’s Caden Benson made it 4-2 at the 11:09 mark on a Hawks’ powerplay, the Bruins would score again on yet another powerplay. Gallagher went behind the net and dished a pass out front to Cody Davis for the 17-year-old’s 13th goal of the year to make it 5-2 at the 14:52 mark. McMillen also assisted on the goal.
Jack Lenchyshyn would cut the lead to 5-3 at the 16:09 mark and that would remain the score heading into the intermission. But before the break, a dangerous hit by Nipawin’s Jordan Simoneau would light off a powderkeg and multiple fights.
Tanner Manz would pass the puck back into his own zone from near the center line. Then late, and from behind, Simoneau threw his right arm into the back of Manz’s head knocking the forward to the ice. The referees immediately put their arms up to make the call, which would end up being a 5-minute major for a Major Blow/Hit to the Head and a Game Misconduct.
But Bruins’ defenceman Kersey Reich, though about 5 inches smaller than Simoneau, came to the immediate defense of his teammate and engaged Simoneau in a fight. The two players fell to the ground quickly, as Reich would earn the instigator in the tilt. Away from the crowd, Chorney and Alex Von Sprecken would grab ahold of each other and also drop the gloves. Von Sprecken thoroughly manhandled Chorney and ended up with the decision, as both players were issued 5 minutes for fighting and two game misconducts each.
The Bruins continued to lead 5-3 to start the 3rd period and would extend that advantage to 6-3 at the 7:00 mark. Tyler Savage would carry the puck over the blueline and cross towards the middle with Asham-Moroz going the other direction. Savage would fake a drop pass, which pulled the defenders out of the middle of the ice leaving a wide open lane for Savage to walk in and snipe his 12th goal of the season for the three-goal advantage. Asham-Moroz and McMillen assisted on the goal, McMillen’s 4th assist of the game.
But Nipawin would bounce back with Andrew Schaab scoring at the 8:20 mark to make it 6-4. The tight-checking game would continue as the Bruins looked to hold off the Hawks attack for the victory.
Nipawin pulled their goalie for an extra attacker with more than 3:00 remaining, and it would work as with only 2:15 remaining Jeremy Bisson scored to cut the Bruins’ lead to 6-5.
In the dying minutes, the Hawks would be able to pull their goaltender again for an extra attacker. But as the final seconds ticked off the clock, Keenan Rancier and the Bruins’ defence managed to keep the puck out of the net holding on for a critical win in regulation, 6-5 for Estevan.
Rancier (29/34) would earn the win in net, making several huge saves in the dying minutes for his SJHL-leading 24th victory of the season. Ross Hawryluk (8/12) was pulled after Gallagher’s 2nd period goal for backup Dalton Dosch. Dosch (20/22) played well in relief but would be tagged with the loss.
The Bruins powerplay was a huge factor in the win, as the team executed on (4/5) opportunities. Nipawin (2/5) would get two goals on the man advantage.
With the Bruins’ third straight win (29-22-3-1), Estevan pulls within two points (62pts) of Nipawin (64pts, 30-22-3-1) for the 6th overall seed. If both Estevan and Nipawin win the rest of their games, the two teams will tie in points but Nipawin will hold the tiebreaker (ROW – Regulation & Overtime Wins). So the Bruins are needing to finish with more points than Nipawin to earn the 6th overall seed.
Behind the Bruins in 8th are the Humboldt Broncos (59pts, 25-21-7-2). The Bruins need to win two of their final three games to guarantee at least a 7th overall finish. Also, there is still an outside chance the Bruins could pass the La Ronge Ice Wolves (5th – 30-19-3-3) in the standings, but the Bruins would have to win all their remaining games and have La Ronge earn 1 point or less in their final three games.
The Bruins will face the already eliminated Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox on Wednesday, February 26th at 8:00pm. Then the Bruins end the season with a home-and-home weekend series against the also eliminated Weyburn Red Wings, travelling to Weyburn on Friday before closing out the season in Estevan on Saturday, February 29th at 7:30pm.