WESTLOCK - The Westlock Seniors Warriors inched closer to .500 in the North Central Hockey League, splitting their final two games before the Christmas break.
At the Rotary Spirit Centre Friday night, Dec. 17, the Warriors slid past the fourth-placed Red Deer Rustlers 6-4, then fell 4-2 to the third-placed Morinville Kings the following evening in Morinville. The 1-1 weekend elevates the club to 3-5-0-1 in the eight-team NCHL, four points behind the fifth-place Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs with two games in hand.
Captain Mike Ivey said it would have been nice to pick up the win versus Morinville to extend their winning streak to four, but a weekend split is still a step in the right direction.
“It would have been nice to go into the break with another win, but at the same time we’re pretty happy with the ground we’ve gained in the last few weeks and we’re feeling positive about that,” said Ivey.
Forward Taylor Heck opened the scoring 5:06 into the first period versus the Rustlers, who responded with a goal of their own in the final minute. The Rustlers actually took the lead 36 seconds into the second, before three-straight goals from Ryan Nelles, Mathew Peddie and Kyle Dronyk put them up 4-2. The Rustlers closed the gap to 4-3 with a goal less than two minutes into the third, before Dronyk scored an unassisted short-handed marker that turned out to be the game winner. The Rustlers though didn’t stop fighting and responded with one more, with Scott Ivey netting the sixth goal with 1:29 to play. Goalie Jordan Brand, who faced 39 shots, got the win between the pipes.
“Red Deer is a good team and I thought we played a solid game against them. And Jordie Brand was great in net, he made a couple of really big saves as the Rustlers have some snipers,” said Ivey.
In Morinville the following night, the Kings came out flying and took a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes — Tyler Kampjes had the club’s lone first-period marker. The clubs traded goals in the second as Clayton Eisler’s powerplay marker at 2:41 kept the Warriors within one.
Despite pelting the Kings netminder with 11 third-period shots and 30 on the night, the Warriors just couldn’t find the equalizer — Morinville potted an empty-netter with 17 seconds left to make the final 4-2. Goalie Chase Langdale was tagged with the loss, turning aside 14 of the 17 shots he faced.
“They’ve always been an offensive team so to hold them to three goals, minus the empty-netter, was a solid performance. We just couldn’t score — we had some power play opportunities that night that we needed to take advantage of,” he said.
The club is now off for the remainder of 2021 and will return to action Jan. 9 when they head to Bonnyville to face the Pontiacs. They’re home Jan. 14-15 for back-to-back tilts versus the Kings and Lacombe Generals, then Fort Saskatchewan comes to town Jan. 22. The Warriors end the regular season Jan. 29 in Camrose where they’ll face the Crush before playoffs start in February.
“We have some big ones coming up and the Bonnyville one is a massive game … the first one back after the Christmas break is always interesting. But for sure we need some playback versus Bonnyville, the loss to them was easily our ugliest game of the year,” said Ivey.
“As much as every team makes the playoffs this year, we want to put ourselves in a good position, finish strong and have a good run in the playoffs.”