Back in November, the Battlefords North Stars came to Estevan to visit our hometown Estevan Bruins.
The Stars had already beaten the Bruins twice handily in North Battleford. And they beat the Bruins again 7-4 that night. But the score wasn’t indicative of the play, and the Bruins played a strong game against a Stars team that has spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Entering that game, the Stars were unbeaten in regulation. And entering Saturday’s game at Affinity Place, they still hadn’t lost in regulation. Thirty-six games, no regulation losses. One loss in overtime. Two in the shootout. It was an incredible feat.
But all good things must come to an end, even incredible runs of success.
The Bruins shut out the Stars 5-0 on Saturday night. Full credit to all for this win. The Bruins came out flying. The Stars were lucky to be down just 1-0 after the first period. Goaltender Justen Maric bailed out Canada’s top team repeatedly.
Battlefords outplayed the Bruins in the second period, but couldn’t beat Estevan goaltender Jackson Miller. Miller had help from his defence; they blocked a number of shots, and if there was a bad rebound, the defence was quick to clear it.
When the Bruins needed a goal to give themselves some breathing room in the third, they had it. And not only did they get the 2-0 goal, but they scored twice more within a couple of minutes to lead 4-0. One more tally would follow before the game was out.
It likely wasn’t a very fun bus ride home from Estevan to the Battlefords for the Stars.
Given how the Bruins played against the Stars in their last meeting, and since it was the Stars’ third game in three nights, you had the sense that the Stars might be vulnerable Saturday night, and it might be a night in which they fall. But nobody could have predicted a 5-0 decision.
It was particularly great to see Miller earn the shutout. After his struggles in his first two starts of the season in September, a lot of people were questioning whether he was good enough to play at the junior A level.
He started to answer the critics with his play before Christmas. He’s played five straight games since the Christmas break due to an injury to No. 1 goalie Cam Hrdlicka. And Miller has been great.
The game against the Stars was his best, but it wasn’t his only good game since Christmas.
You could see how happy his teammates were for him after the game. Not only were they celebrating a big win, but each one skated up to Miller to hug him and congratulate him. The longest embrace was from Hrdlicka.
When Miller was named the game’s first star, the season-high 1,244 fans in attendance applauded the local product. And you could see how happy Bruins head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic was for Miller after the game.
Battlefords deserves full credit for the streak they had. As the torrid run grew, each team they faced was going to be fired up to play them and try to hand out a loss. Hockey fans across Saskatchewan were watching each night to see if it would be the night that the Stars would lose. They're an incredible team and still the team to beat this season.
It was good for the league to have a situation like this. And it was great for the Bruins to be the team to knock off the Stars.
This league is often known for its parity, which is fine, but it is good to have a powerhouse team like the Stars. This is likely the best team in the SJHL since the Battlefords team that went 12-0 in the playoffs in 2017; it might be the best since the Yorkton Terriers squad that won the national title in 2014.
As a bonus, the Stars have a hearty contingent of local products on their roster.
In hockey, anyone can beat anyone on any given night. You run into a hot goalie, or you get a couple of bad bounces, and suddenly you’re handed a loss.
But this wasn’t a fluke win for Estevan. They outplayed the Stars in all facets of the game and deserved the victory.
On Saturday night, the best junior A team in the country wasn’t good enough to beat Estevan’s Bruins.