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Swedes sweep Saskatchewan

It was an opportunity not many hockey players get - a chance to play an international hockey game. The Battlefords North Stars had that opportunity Monday, as they took on the Sweden Under 17 Team at the Civic Centre.

It was an opportunity not many hockey players get - a chance to play an international hockey game.

The Battlefords North Stars had that opportunity Monday, as they took on the Sweden Under 17 Team at the Civic Centre.

It was an exciting, highly skilled game for the nearly 950 fans to watch and it completed the Swedes' sweep of four Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League teams. The score Monday was 5-2 for Sweden. They also had a 4-1 win over Humboldt, 5-3 win in La Ronge and a 5-4 win in Flin Flon.

The Swedes intended to play in the 2011 World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Manitoba, but weren't invited and decided to play some exhibition games against SJHL teams that would entertain the idea of another home game on their schedule.

Monday, the North Stars started the scoring on the powerplay, as Mitch Galbraith crashed the net and chipped a rebound by Oscar Danzk.

The Swedes tied the game on a highlight reel goal by Filip Forsberg, who from his own blue-line, deked two North Stars then beat Kyle Birch blocker side.

After one period the score was 1-1, but the North Stars trailed 18-8 in shots.

Axel Walltott scored the go-ahead-goal for Sweden early in the second, as he had a ton of time to tee up a point shot and blasted it by Birch. Birch got a glove on the shot, but not enough.

Midway through the second, the North Stars switched goalies and Graham Hildebrand replaced Birch after he made 22 saves.

Sweden beat Hildebrand on just the second shot he faced as Lucas Wallmark took a pass through the neutral zone after jumping off the bench. He moved over the blue-line before firing a beautiful shot off the post and by Hildebrand's glove.

The North Stars had a five-on-three powerplay to end the second, but couldn't capitalize and trailed 3-1.

The North Stars produced a strong first shift to start the third period and eventually forced Sweden to take a timeout five minutes in.

It rallied the Swedes and, on a rebound, Wallmark made it 4-1.

Keith Grondin scored seconds later for the North Stars, as he took the puck wide and drove hard to the net beating Danzk.

That was as close as the North Stars would get, as Erik Karlsson scored an empty netter to seal the deal.

Although it was an exhibition game, the Swedes were impressive with their passing, puck handling and speed the entire game. The North Stars did win the physical battle and, when all is said and done, it was an experience most players will not forget.

"It's awesome, it is an honour I have been in the league for three years and I played a lot of hockey and started skating at six and never had a chance to play an international game," said North Stars' captain Chris Neurauter.

It was an exhibition game and despite the loss a great way to come off the holiday break and get back into game shape said North Stars head coach and general manager Ken Pearson.

"It is great," said Pearson. "I'm glad our board jumped on board to give our players that opportunity. I thought the fans were treated to a good game. I thought our guys, for the time off we had, played alright. They are a good hockey club, no doubt about it."

With the exhibition game behind them, it is back to business for the North Stars, as they practised Tuesday morning and kickoff the 2011 portion of the regular season Wednesday night against Notre Dame.

"We got to get rolling here, the trade deadline is coming up so everyone has to play for a spot," said Neurauter. "Notre Dame is coming in, last time they were in our barn they beat us 7-2 so you we have something to prove to them and we need every point we can get. We are tied with Flin Flon for fourth and we got to keep going here and get some wins."

The North Stars are 17-20-1-1 and five points out of third place in the SJHL's Bauer Conference, but as Neurauter mentioned the trade deadline is approaching (Jan. 10). The North Stars will likely be looking to improve and make a run in the playoffs, which Pearson confirmed Monday.

"We are all in, we're not rebuilding here - there is no way. We feel we have to make a couple moves and we are right there," said Pearson.

The North Stars have had 38 different players dress for a game this season and their roster now sits at 23 with two goalies, 14 forwards, one of which is Brett Miller who is sidelined with an injury and seven defenceman, one being Brody Luhning who is on a four-game tryout with the Calgary Hitmen. Luhning had a plus two rating and five penalty minutes in three games with the Hitmen.

Following the game Wednesday night, the next action for the North Stars is Friday against Melville at the Civic Centre.

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