The Springfield IceHawks had a severe case of bus legs Sunday afternoon, but sympathy was not forthcoming from their hosts.
The Fort Frances Midget ‘AA’ Canadians took advantage of their weary visitors and waltzed to a 7-1 victory to improve to 3-0 in the ‘A’ Division of the Eastman Midget League (Manitoba).
“We started right off the get go skating hard,” said Canadians head coach Dave Egan. “[Springfield] had to travel four hours to get here, and then hop right off the bus to play the game.
“They got their legs later in the game, but we were all over them in the first period,” he added. “We can roll four lines and when the other team only plays three, it works to our advantage.”
The IceHawks (0-3-1) had an early chance to establish themselves when Canadians defenceman Bryan Chambers picked up a hitting from behind minor and a game misconduct just 1:24 into the game to trim the home team’s blueline corps to just four players.
But the Canadians killed the penalty—using an aggressive forechecking style they maintained during the rest of the game.
“I’ve told the guys if they get some offensive opportunities during the penalty kill to force the play,” noted Egan. “Any offensive chance you get while killing a penalty, that’s a bonus.”
Trevor Lind then scored the first of two in the game at the 6:57 mark, crashing the net to stuff a loose puck past IceHawks goalie Tyler Mueller.
The Canadians’ dominating speed then began coming to the forefront. Brian Vargas zipped down the left wing to set up a two-on-one before feathering a pass over to Tyler Pocock, who had time to corral the puck and put it behind Mueller at 14:09 to make it 2-0.
Sam Mueller scored a power-play goal at 15:30 against Canadians goalie Mark Buist to inject hope into the IceHawks.
But that was quickly dashed when David Pollard pounced on his own rebound and popped the puck through the five-hole of the Springfield goalie for a 3-1 advantage.
The second period saw the IceHawks play the role of bait in a Canadians’ feeding frenzy.
Zach Halwachs forced Springfield’s Brian Ritsema to cough up the puck right onto the stick of Lind, who motored in on the breakaway and beat Tyler Mueller 31 seconds into the middle stanza to put Fort Frances up 4-1.
“[Mueller] gave me the glove side the whole way and that’s where I went with it,” said Lind. “[Halwachs] showed lots of hustle to force the guy to turn the puck over.”
In another example of the Canadians’ explosiveness, Fort Frances clicked three times in 1:33 to cook the IceHawks’ goose.
Vargas came into the Springfield zone on another turbo-charged rush, stopped on a dime in the right face-off circle, then dropped the puck to Pocock, who promptly cranked it past Mueller at 10:19 to make it 5-1.
Just 56 seconds later, David Goodman found Scott Howarth alone in the slot, who made no mistake with his 20-footer that found the back of the net and sent Mueller scurrying to the bench in favour of back-up Paul Kouck.
But Pocock then put on the jets to set up another two-on-one. And while Halwachs only got a piece of the pass across, it was enough to sneak it past Kouck at 11:52 to close out the scoring.
“The key right now is playing as a team, which we have been,” said Lind. “If we continue to focus on team defence, we’ll be all right.”
The tougher part of the Canadians’ schedule is yet to come as the three teams they’ve played since joining the ‘A’ Division only have one win between them.
“We have teams like [the first-place] Portage [Terriers] coming up who are going to be very tough,” said Egan. “They knocked three Springfield guys out with shoulder injuries [back on Dec. 7].
“But if we stay with our game plan, and continue to play a discipline style of hockey, then win or lose, we’ll know we gave 100 percent,” he reasoned.
The Canadians—currently sitting in second place in the division with two games in hand on the Terriers—next see action against the Mitchell Mohawks on Saturday, Jan. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Ice for Kids Arena.