The Yukon Rivermen lost all three games in their opening series against the Thompson Jr. Blazers, but playing at such an elite level for the first time, head coach Martin Lawrie is looking forward to the future.
“The boys showed that they can compete, they didn’t quit, they pushed hard late in the third,” Lawrie said following the first game, a tight 2-0 loss.
Every game went down to the wire with the Rivermen shut out in Game 1 by Blazers goalie Evan Pascoe.
The Blazers jumped out to an early lead in the Friday night game in front of a good crowd at Takhini Arena. Zakery Anderson scored 1:43 into the game to give them the lead.
But the Rivermen stayed with them throughout the physical and chippy affair thanks in part to the play of goalie Dawson Smith who made stellar saves throughout the first period to keep his team within striking distance.
But Smith didn’t want to take much credit for his big saves, thanking the defence in front of him — even though some were on breakaways.
So Lawrie gave his goalie some well-deserved compliments.
“He’s likely the best player on our team. The kid’s a great athlete, he’s a great goalie, he’s got a super attitude,” Lawrie said of his goalie who played all three games in the series for the Rivermen. “He’s a leader on the ice and he’s a leader off the ice for us.”
The Rivermen surrendered another goal about halfway through the third and couldn’t capitalize with Smith pulled out of the net for an extra attacker.
Smith said after the game that playing at home in such a big atmosphere was a highlight moment for him.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve played with that many fans ever.”
The Rivermen went 0-for-7 on the power play, which Lawrie said the team needs to improve on moving forward.
Back on the ice the next day, Yukon didn’t have time to work on the power play before Game 2, another tight-checking game, which saw a scoreless first period.
The Blazers opened the scoring with two in the second period, and this time with Sam Begg in net, Thompson held the Rivermen scoreless through five periods of hockey.
That is until Yukon forward Landon Marsh, who was buzzing with chances during the series, picked up the puck in the
neutral zone and sped down the wing on a mission before losing his footing and diving to put the puck past Begg.
It was a picture-perfect goal to mark the first of the season for the Rivermen.
That’s as close as the Rivermen would get however, with Evan Clark adding an insurance marker for the Blazers.
But it was a frantic finish with the Rivermen getting a 5-on-3 power play advantage in the dying minutes of the goalie, and pulling Smith for a 6-on-3. The team had lots of chances with the puck loose in front of Begg’s crease but were unable to put the puck in the back of the net.
“We need to work on our power play for sure,” Lawrie said following the series. “We need to up our compete. We showed flashes of it when we chose to skate and chose to hit.”
This was particularly apparent to Lawrie in the third and final game of the series, in which he said the team didn’t have the compete level they had in Game 2 and the Blazers took it to them.
“We lost all our board battles, lost races, were making poor decisions, took lots of penalties, and weren’t moving our feet,” he said after the 6-3 loss on Sunday. “A big thing is they got to play 60 full minutes which means every single shift has to be played at the same intensity and that’s a new piece for a lot of these kids.”
The Blazers jumped out to a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period before Joey Schultz cut the lead in half with 1:10 to go in the first period.
At 3-1 in the second, Schultz wasn’t going down without a fight and scored two goals in less than four minutes to complete the hat trick and tie the game at three.
But just a minute and a half later the Blazers regained the lead and didn’t look back adding two more in a penalty-filled and extremely physical third period.
The 0-3 Rivermen will have two weeks until they travel down to B.C. for their first road games. They will be taking on the North Zone Kings — based out of Salmon Arm/Vernon — Nov. 1-2, before facing the Central Zone Rockets from Kelowna on Dec. 3.