Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Christian Stoever kicks out the point blank attempt of Shreveport’s Jack Jaunich Friday night, game 1 of the Knights semifinal series against the Mudbugs. Photo by Jeff Lawler/Courtesy of NAHL.
On Friday, the Knights took the ice against the Shreveport Mudbugs in game one of the Robertson Cup semifinals. The game marked the second meeting between the teams after the pair tangled last September at the Blaine Showcase. In the first-ever meeting of the organizations, Shreveport came away with a 2-1 victory in a defensive struggle. Last night’s rematch-the first either team has played representing their division in the Robertson Cup Final Four-would serve a heavy dose a deja vu.
The Mudbugs took off to a faster start following an opening shuffle of zones. Off a Knights face off win and clearing effort up the wall, Jordan Fader leveled a heavy hit on the right wing boards to free the puck from a Knights winger. Nikolai Jenson flipped the loose biscuit down the boards for Ryan Burnett. Getting under a backchecking Knight, Burnett, a forward with two previous NAHL seasons under his belt, drove to the net from the half boards. In front of Christian Stoever, he tucked a backhand through to take the 1-0 lead at 3:04.
The Knights efforts at a response were stymied by the Mudbugs ability to block shots as well as limit Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s time in the offensive zone. When shots made it to the Shreveport net, especially during and immediately after a Knights power play seven minutes in, goalie Jaxon Castor was ready, denying all offerings in the first.
To begin the second, the Knights would fire out of the dressing room with renewed intensity, doubling their shot total in the first three minutes of the period. Again Castor responded, stopping each chance the Knights were able to muster. Shreveport would grab momentum back just prior to the halfway point of the frame, extending consecutive shifts in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton zone. Christian Stoever continued to answer the bell, making nine saves on nine second-period shots.
The Knights would slow the Shreveport pace, and push back late in the period, but could not put a puck past Castor. At the end of 40 minutes, the score remained close, with the Mudbugs in possession of the 1-0 lead.
In the third, Shreveport found insurance early, when they caught the Knights in a change heading into the attacking zone. Roberts Baranovskis fed Brendan VanSweden above the Knights slot, where the ’97 forward ripped a laser past Stoever for the 2-0 lead.
Through the remainder of play, the Mudbugs worked hard on the walls to wear down the Knights and their comeback effort. Long shifts continued in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton end, with shots mounting on Stoever. The goalie made a game-high 12 saves in the third, but Castor stayed even in the opposite crease, blanking the Knights in their efforts to get on the board.
At the final horn, Shreveport secured game one with a 2-0 victory.
“We obviously didn’t play 60 minutes tonight,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “We just told our guys it’s a best two out of three. We threw away an opportunity tonight, but if we learn from it and we come back ready to go tomorrow night, we can get right back in it with a win.”
The Knights will look to bounce tonight at 7:30 PM CDT/8:30 PM EDT. Tune in on hockeytv.com on the “Away Auido” stream or follow along on Knights social media and at www.nahl.com/