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Estevan Bruins return to ice, lose twice prior to trade deadline

The Estevan Bruins returned to the ice following the Christmas break.
Zachery Burns (20) keeps his eye on the puck during Saturday's game against the Battlefords.

ESTEVAN - The Estevan Bruins roller-coaster season continued in their first games after the Christmas break, as they lost back-to-back games.

Estevan fell 3-2 to the Weyburn Red Wings on Friday night and 3-1 against the Battlefords North Stars on Saturday. The Bruins have now lost four straight.

Estevan came out strong against the Red Wings, as Daniel Tokariwski scored his first goal in the SJHL in the first period to give the Black and Gold a 1-0 lead, and the Bruins had a considerable edge in shots on goal.

But then the Bruins ran into penalty trouble. Nicholas Kovacs scored a power-play goal for Weyburn to tie the game late in the first period, Elijah Anderson tallied at even strength in the second period to put the Wings ahead and Jaxson Ruthven scored on a power-play in the third to give the Wings a two-goal lead.

"I think we spent the last eight minutes of the first period in the penalty box," said head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic.

Zach Burfoot scored with just over five minutes to play in the third to pull the Bruins to within one, and the Bruins had chances to tie, but couldn't convert.

Cam Hrdlicka stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced, while Dazza Mitchell made 42 saves for Weyburn.

With the win, the Red Wings clinched the 2023-24 Highway 39 Cup with the Bruins. Sponsored by Estevan Police Chief Rich Lowen and his Weyburn counterpart Jamie Blunden, the trophy goes to the team that wins the season series. Weyburn has won all four meeting this year; the clubs will meet six times.

Lowen has to don a Weyburn Red Wings' jersey as part of the bet. Estevan won the Highway 39 Cup in its first two years.

The Stars came out strong in Saturday night's game, and Jackson Allan opened the scoring with just over four minutes to play in the opening frame. A short time later, Stars' captain Tanner Gold, one of the top defencemen in the SJHL, was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing Tokariwski.

Burfoot knotted the game at 1-1 with a pretty goal while the teams were at four-on-four, but 28 seconds later, Bradley Blake tallied to put the Stars back in front. Josh Medernach added to the lead 31 seconds afterwards on a Stars' power play.

The Bruins had chances in the third, including a couple of breakaways for Owen Barrow, but Scott Cunningham stopped the chances.

Tatarnic said the Stars dictated the pace of the play in the first 40 minutes, while the Bruins were better in the third.

"We had some chances in the second. I thought we had a good third period – our third period was our best period – but that's a common theme with us, is we get down and all of a sudden, we start playing better. But it's always too late. We have to figure out how to put 60 minutes together consistently, and it seems like we have a really hard time doing that," said Tatarnic.

Jackson Miller made 23 saves on the night, including some stellar saves in the second, while Cunningham had 20 saves for the Stars.

"We … have to be winning these games," said Burfoot. "Something's got to click here, but we're not doing enough now."

The players need to execute and listen to the coaches to get back on track, Burfoot said. Rust associated with three weeks off due to the Christmas break shouldn't have been a factor.

"We've been practising for a week, so we really can't blame it on anything other than ourselves right now," said Burfoot.

Defenceman Jules Delepoulle, acquired prior to the Christmas break from a team in Quebec, made his debut versus the Stars.

"He skates well and he can make some nice passes, so he will be a good player for us down the road," said Tatarnic.

The games were among the last for the Bruins before the Jan. 10 trade deadline for Canadian junior A hockey. Tatarnic said the team will be making moves, but he's not sure of the direction. A lot of it will depend on the status of 20-year-old forward Turner McMillen, who joined the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League for a three-game tryout after Christmas.

The Bruins pulled off one move already, sending forward Tristan Dussault to the St-Georges-de-Beauce Condors (QJHL) for a player development fee. Dussault had 10 goals and five assists in 22 games with the Bruins.  

Estevan (13-16-0-2) will host the La Ronge Ice Wolves on Jan. 10 and Jan. 13. Both games will start at 7 p.m. Then they will visit the Kindersley Klippers on Jan. 16 and the North Stars the following night.