By Gary Moskalyk
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champion Battlefords North Stars opened the scoring with a short-handed marker and added a late first period tally en route to a 4-1 decision over Kam River in game 1 of the 2023 Centennial Cup. North Stars veteran Steven Kesslering scored the first goal on a breakaway midway through the first and assisted on Jackson Allan’s rebound tuck with 21 seconds left as the North Stars took a 2-0 lead outshooting Kam River 14-4 through 20.
The Walleye rebounded in the second.
Jeremy Dunmore’s short-side deflection beat Stars’ goalie Josh Kotai at 6:59 to pull Kam River close. Ryan Doucette and Brodie McLeod picked up the helpers. Kobe Braham had a couple of good looks and Kyle Lamoureux rang one off the post as the Walleye outshot Battlefords 12-10 in the middle frame.
Tanner Gold’s one-timer at 18:40 of the middle session re-established the two goal margin for the Stars.
Colby Bear made it 4-1 at 10:35 of the third to close out the scoring.
Eric Vanska stopped 36 shots–many of them grade A chances–shouldering the loss. Kotai had 23 saves for the win.
Kam River took four of six minor penalties.
Battlefords brought a 12-game playoff winning streak into Centennial Cup competition, compiling 48-5-3 regular season record. They finished second to the Brooks Bandits in the CJHL rankings.
“We were right there that whole game,” said Kam River head coach Geoff Walker. “A couple of late goals in periods hurt us, a couple of mistakes that we made. All in all, pretty proud of the effort. We can be better, though. It’s something we need to build on.”
The Walleye hit their stride after a balky first.
“I think the boys were a little bit nervous to start that game, which is understandable. It’s 2-1 with a minute-and-a-half to go in the second. We hit a couple of posts, we were kind of pushing it. Had the breakaway. One of those goes in and it’s 2-2. All in all, 4-1 against supposedly the second-best team here, is something we can definitely build on.”
Kam River takes on the host Portage Terriers Saturday at 7:30 CDT.
Individual games are available for 9.99 on the Centennial Cup website.