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Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

North Stars off to league finals after second consecutive sweep

By Nathan Kanter - battlefordsNOW, 04/05/17, 1:00PM CST

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For the first time since 2006, the Battlefords North Stars are heading back to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League finals.

On Tuesday night, they swept the Estevan Bruins thanks to a dominating 6-1 win in game four on the road. It was their second consecutive sweep, after beating Weyburn 4-0 in the quarter-finals.

"You don't go into the playoffs right now thinking that you're going to sweep a series, that's for sure," North Stars head coach Nate Bedford said after the win. "[I'm] really proud of the guys for putting in four really strong games and sticking with it.

"I don't think we peaked at the right time. I don't think that's the case. I think we were just really hungry for this."

The North Stars are the first team to sweep the first two rounds of the SJHL playoffs since the Yorkton Terriers in 2011.

But the way they have won their eight consecutive games has been nothing short of phenomenal.

After a couple close games paired with a couple blowouts in the quarter-finals, they won each and every one of their four games in the semifinals by at least a three-goal margin.

In eight games so far in the post-season, they have 47 goals for (5.875 per game) and just 18 against (2.25 against).

"Success only comes if guys love playing for each other and our guys love playing for each other," Bedford said. "I'm still yelling at guys with five minutes left in the game [tonight] and they're being hard on each other with five minutes left in the game because we want to make sure we do everything the right way."

Tuesday's game, with the Bruins facing elimination, produced perhaps the North Stars best game of the post-season.

Joel Gryzbowski stood tall between the pipes, stopping 31 of 32 shots he faced to improve his post-season record to 2-0 and his save percentage from .902 to .932.

"I can't get over his competitiveness," Bedford said of his rookie netminder. "It's not easy playing the fourth game on the road [when] you've been fairly successful in the first three games and you come in and you don't want to screw anything up. The pressure on him was immense and he comes in and he starts playing the puck like he's a third defenceman. I don't think people understand how good he is [at that]. He's intelligent and calm and really good at doing it."

Layne Young and Coby Downs had four points each, while Keaton Holinaty scored twice, his sixth and seventh of the post-season. Downs and Young remain first and second in playoff scoring, with 20 and 18 points in just eight games, respectively.

Downs also increased his point-streak to 11 games, with five goals and 20 assists during that span, while Young increased his point-streak to four games, with 11 points during that span.

The second line also chipped in, as Jared Blaquiere scored his first goal of the playoffs late in the third.

"We're rolling four lines and all four lines are producing in all four areas of the ice," Bedford said. "And we've got six 'D' that are going strong. Both goalies are playing well.

"We've got the best group of kids in our league right now."

The North Stars continued to start quickly, striking three times in the first 12 minutes.

Connor Logan opened the scoring three minutes in, before Downs and Young added goals as well.

In the second, Holinaty netted two goals from in tight, one of which was on the power play, to stretch the visitors’ lead to 5-0 before the second intermission. With that lead after two periods, the North Stars have never trailed at the end of any period yet in these playoffs.

Michael McChesney was the only goal scorer for the Bruins, as he and Blaquiere exchanged third period goals to make the finals core 6-1.

The final shots on goal favoured the North Stars 43-32.

It is currently unclear who the North Stars will face in the finals, as the Nipawin Hawks currently lead the Flin Flon Bombers 2-1 in the other semifinal series, after Flin Flon won 3-2 on Tuesday. Game four in that series is set for Wednesday evening.

"We'll keep close tabs on that series," Bedford. "That's the benefit of winning tonight – is you get the extra break. You get to be a fan for a little bit and sometimes being a fan and taking your mind off your game kind of relieves some pressure and kind of gets you hungry again.

"We're going to enjoy the moment until Sunday and then Monday we're going to get back to work and see if we can't finish this off with four more wins."

While the current North Stars have this weekend off, the team will hold their spring camp this weekend from April 7-9 where dozens of young players will take to the ice to try to get a jump start on the fall and leave an impression.

 

Nathan.kanter@jpbg.ca

@NathanKanter11

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