The Estevan Bruins and Nipawin Hawks entered game one of the SJHL finals on Saturday, April 14 conflicting streaks. The Bruins had not lost a game on the road in the playoffs and the Hawks had not lost at home. Something had to give, and it was Nipawin who gave.
Kaelan Holt, Jayden Davis, and Arthur Miller scored, with Zach Goberis and Michael McChesney adding empty netters and Bo Didur making 41 saves on 43 shots as Estevan won 5-2. Josh McDougal and Jordan Simoneau responded for the Hawks.
Both teams played with emotion and pace out of the gate, energized by a rousing pregame ceremony in honour of the Humboldt Broncos and a crowd of over 1000 packing the cage, as Nipawin’s arena is known. The Hawks rode the momentum to an early power play goal as McDougal snuck a point shot through traffic to give them the early lead.
Despite being badly outshot, Estevan got the break they needed on the power play when Jake Heerspink made a shot-pass to Holt at the side of the net. Holt’s hands served him well as he tipped the puck past Declan Hobbs and in.
The game was among the most physical of the year, with bodies flying all game long. Johnny Witzke began the hit parade with a textbook hip check on Brett Harasymuk and the hits never stopped. Matthew Chekay was particularly ferocious, delivering multiple crushing checks. Simoneau replied in kind for the Hawks.
Simoneau chipped in on the scoresheet as well, scoring the first even strength goal of the series in the second. Simoneau muscled his way from one corner to the other, finally working the puck into shooting position despite being closely checked and rifling a shot past Didur.
Hobbs made several brilliant saves in the second, including one on Jake Fletcher on a partial break, but his period was defined by a bad choice with the puck as he came out to start a breakout with a pass, fanned on it, and put it right on the tape of Jayden Davis. Davis outwaited a desperately diving Hobbs and slipped it past him for the equalizer.
Late in the period, Miller scored a backbreaking goal that turned out to be the game winner. Heerspink flipped a hail-Mary to Miller, who knocked it down inside the offensive zone on the right side, dashed his way in and fired one low-blocker on Hobbs for the first Bruins lead of the night, which they never surrendered.
The Bruins weathered a storm in the third period as Nipawin poured it on, egged on by a raucous crowd, but Didur stood his ground and allowed few good looks at his net. Estevan added a pair of empty net goals to seal the win.
Estevan improves to 6-0 on the road in the playoffs, and takes a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series. Game two begins on Sunday, April 15.
The pregame ceremony for the Humboldt Broncos included a moment of silence, and a chance for the players and crowd to acknowledge the first responders who worked tirelessly to save the survivors of the crash. The Broncos lost 16 members of their hockey family in a bus crash on April 6.
Tyson Manz left the game in the third period after blocking several shots and taking a big hit from Jordan Simoneau. He did not return.
Davis’s goal extends his point streak to three games. He has eight points in ten playoff games so far.
Michael McChesney’s empty netter gave him seven goals on the playoffs. He leads the team and the league with 15 points in ten playoff games, and has not been held pointless in any game in the playoffs.
Zach Goberis’s eighth goal of the playoffs ties him with Jake Fletcher for the team lead and second in the SJHL. He has a six-game point streak of his own on the go.
There were just fourteen minutes in minor penalties handed out in the entire game. Ten of them went against the Bruins, and four of those went to Goberis.