It was the current class of the SJHL's goaltenders against the future of the position when Grant Boldt of the Estevan Bruins and Declan Hobbs of the Nipawin Hawks went save-for-save on Saturday, January 26 at Affinity Place. Through 65 minutes and a shootout, it was the younger Boldt who emerged victorious, despite brilliant play from the stalwart Hobbs.
Turner Ripplinger of the Bruins scored in regulation and the shootout, while Carson Erhardt replied in regulation for Nipawin as the Bruins won their fifth straight game. Boldt was solid, allowing just one goal for the second straight game on 29 shots, while Hobbs stood on his head, facing 46 shots in the Hawks crease.
Though the score was wildly different from the Bruins win of the previous night, a 6-1 romp over the Melfort Mustangs, Estevan felt they controlled the play in much the same fashion.
"The score looks a lot different," said Bruins head coach and GM Chris Lewgood. "I don't think the quality of the game was a lot different. It was a bit more of a nailbiter but this was two big wins against two good teams."
Despite good chances at both ends, and big hits aplenty, neither team cracked the scoresheet through the first two periods. Both goalies went back and forth making huge saves before, early in the third, an odd gaffe led to Arik Bretton getting left alone behind the Bruins net and feeding Erhardt between the hash-marks. Erhardt's shot was partially blocked but just snuck between Boldt's legs.
The pushback from the Bruins was immediate and relentless, with Will Koop and Michael McChesney both having grade-A scoring chances, only to be flat out robbed by Hobbs. Despite their opponent's goalie standing on his head, however, the Bruins were unfazed.
"There was no panic," Lewgood said. "We still had confidence. We talked about it after the second period, it's not next goal wins it's who has the most goals at the end of the game. We knew we had the horses to put the pressure on and I thought we dominated after their goal."
It was Ripplinger who finally brought the score back to even for the Bruins at the very end of a power play. With Bryce Platt setting the screen and getting the puck on the doorstep, Hobbs came out to challenge him. Platt sent the puck over to Ripplinger on the backside and, because of Hobbs's challenge, the veteran forward had most of the net to aim at for his 21st of the campaign.
"On the power play, I kind of go to the same spot every time," Ripplinger said. "(Platt) is a big boy and he did most of the work in front. If you're a good hockey fan you realize the work he does out front because I really appreciate it. He knows I'm standing there where it's easy to tap it in."
Back and forth the two teams went for the rest of regulation to no avail. In overtime, Platt took a high stick that drew blood, putting the Bruins on an extended power play. Yet again, however, Hobbs stole the show with cross-crease diving saves and occasionally a save or two off his forehead. The shootout rolled around and Ripplinger was first over the boards.
"He's a phenomenal goaltender," Ripplinger said of Hobbs, "and his numbers prove it and he proved it tonight."
Phenomenal though he was, Hobbs was no match for Ripplinger in the shootout. The veteran forward waited for Hobbs to bite before ripping a shot low to the blocker side for the only goal of the shootout.
"I'm a right-hander," he said, describing the goal, "I see McDavid do this all the time, come in on his off hand and either rip it top glove or low blocker. I saw blocker tonight."
The Bruins conclude their season series with the Hawks with a victory, splitting it at two games each. The Bruins take a few days off now before traveling to Weyburn to take on the Red Wings on Friday, February 1. The game will air on Rock 106.
This weekend marked the second time this year where the Bruins have swept the Hawks and Mustangs on a weekend. Grant Boldt has started all four games and allowed only four goals in total.
In their past three games against the Hawks, the Bruins have piled up 110 shots on Declan Hobbs. Hobbs has stopped 109 of them. His two shutout wins came in Nipawin.
On the season series, the home team has won every game. The Bruins did not score a goal in Nipawin's arena, Centennial Arena, this year, while the Hawks managed just two goals in two games at Affinity Place.
The win once again moves the Bruins into a tie for first place in the Viterra Division with the Yorkton Terriers. The Terriers were idle on the night, and hold two games in hand.