The Battlefords North Stars played their best game of their tournament when it mattered the most, but it might not quite be enough to advance at the Western Canada Cup.
The team's 3-0 shutout win over the Chilliwack Chiefs on Thursday afternoon gives them a 1-2-1 record after the round robin, and if they are to advance, they have to hope that tonight's game between the host Penticton Vees and Portage Terriers does not go to overtime. As long as the winning team wins in regulation, Battlefords will advance and play that team in the third versus fourth playoff game on Saturday afternoon.
Whether they win or not, one thing was clear on Thursday: the North Stars came to play.
"This game meant more for us," North Stars head coach Nate Bedford said following the win. "I think that was a bit of a difference. We knew if we didn't play well it was the last game for a bunch of guys and now we sit back and just hope something good happens tonight."
The North Stars thoroughly outchanced the Chiefs, although Chilliwack also rested multiple players, including starting goalie Marc Sinclair, because they had already qualified for the first versus second championship game against Brooks.
Nonetheless, it was refreshing to see, as the North Stars outshot Chilliwack 26-22.
"I knew the boys were going to come play," North Stars winger Layne Young said, who had one hell of a performance with two goals, including the game-winner on a redirection from the slot. "We played a little more desperate. We were blocking more shots, working harder, harder on the forecheck, things like that."
"[Young's] been a key player throughout the whole year," North Stars captain Kendall Fransoo said of his team's star winger. "He's going to be a key player wherever he goes, he's just got that much skill."
Fransoo said the team's best effort of the tournament started with strong play in their own end.
"If we play our style – glass and out – that creates a lot of odd-man rushes and scoring chances," Fransoo said. "All the teams down here like to play in the middle of the ice and I think if we start to play their style of hockey what happens in the other games is what happens. We can't compete with that."
The game was 1-0 for far too long, as Young's first goal came late in the first and Keaton Holinaty chipped in with a huge insurance goal that didn't happen until late in the third.
During that time, Chiefs rookie goaltender Mathieu Caron kept his team in the game.
For Battlefords, is was another sign that they need to dig deep and start capitalizing more on their scoring chances.
"If you're not capitalizing it can be demoralizing," Bedford said. "We still need to find a way to bury."
But on the defensive side of things, there were few worries at all.
Chilliwack had very few high quality scoring chances, which was more used to how Battlefords stormed through the SJHL playoffs.
"When we want to play well defensively, we're hard to beat," Bedford said. "They spent time in our zone but it was mostly on the outside, which we're OK with. We've been OK with it all year. So we found a way to hang on."
Joel Grzybowski shut the door on all 22 shots he faced.
"I thought he did a great job wth controlling the game," Bedford said. "He was good with his stick. He was in position. He's so calm, even when he gets out of position, he's calm getting back into position. I was real happy with the way he played."
North Stars fans are now hoping that whoever jumps out to a quick lead holds that lead tonight between Penticton and Portage, as any result in regulation would keep this tremendous North Stars season going.
"I just think we're right there. We can compete with anybody," Bedford said. "We haven't played our best but we haven't played our worst either. Today was a good indication of, if we do get the opportunity to play on Saturday, I think you're going to see a much different team."