By Andrew Rankin - Metro Halifax
SASKATOON - The Halifax Mooseheads got their wake up call Sunday night.
A day after dominating the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks, the Herd fell 5-2 to the Memorial Cup underdog Saskatoon Blades before 8,934 fans at the Credit Union Centre.
“We weren’t prepared the way we should have been,” said Mooseheads co-captain Trey Lewis. “They came out and played like it was a Game 7. We just weren’t at the same level.”
Facing a determined and disciplined opponent at home, the Mooseheads failed to establish a consistent rhythm at both ends of the ice, and the Blades made them pay.
“We knew they were going to be physical and we knew they were going to battle; that was their game plan,” said Lewis. “We didn’t battle back and it cost us.”
Coming off a tournament opening 3-2 loss to London, the home squad pushed the pace early. Matej Stransky scored his first of two markers on the night to give the home squad a 1-0 lead with just over 12 minutes into the contest.
Backed by Andrey Makarov’s often stellar 29 save performance, the Blades just kept pushing and led 4-0 before the third period hit the three-minute mark.
Mooseheads forward Darcy Ashley said the loss was largely a result of lost individual battles.
“We started slow out of the gate again and tonight it cost us,” said Ashley. “There are no easy rides in this Memorial Cup. We knew they were going to bring their A-game we had a couple lapses and their goalie played well. We need to be better.”
Halifax, now 1-1, closes out its round-robin play Tuesday against the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights.
Ashley is promising that the Herd will respond with a bounce-back performance.
“The tournament is far from over. You lose a hockey game but there are lots of ways to win in this tournament.”
If there’s a silver lining for the Mooseheads it’s that they were able to make a game of it midway through the third period after Nathan MacKinnon and Stephen MacAulay scored 1:31 apart to make it a two-goal game with 11:41 remaining in the contest.
But in the end, Saskatoon was able to regroup and stop the bleeding before Blades forward Josh Nicholls iced the victory with an empty-netter in the dying seconds.
“You could see their frustration,” said Nicholls. “They were trying to come at us after the whistles. They have a highly skilled team, we knew what it was going to take, and we were able to do that.”
Collin Valcourt and Darren Dietz rounded out the scoring for the Blades.