It wasn’t the desired victory in regulation, but it was certainly a big step in the right direction for the Delta Ice Hawks.
The Pacific Junior Hockey League club began a pivotal four-game stretch with a 3-2 overtime win over the North Vancouver Wolf Pack on Saturday night to improve to 17-5-1 on the season.
Carson Bigras’ second goal of the season, 1:52 into the three-on-three overtime, provided the difference as Delta solidified its second place standing in the Tom Shaw Conference, 10 points back of the Wolf Pack (22-5-1-1), but with five games in hand.
The Hawks host Grandview on Tuesday (7:35 p.m.), travel to Richmond Thursday, then meet the Wolf Pack again on Saturday in North Vancouver.
GM and head coach Steve Robinson wants to see better penalty killing and goaltending from his team and both were delivered in Saturday’s win. North Vancouver went 0/3 on the power play while Braedy Euerby turned aside 23 shots.
Delta outshot the hosts 43-25 and that has been a common theme throughout the season for the league’s highest scoring team. However, it’s going to take a complete effort at both ends of the rink to reel in the Wolf Pack and make a deep post-season run ahead of hosting the Cyclone Taylor Cup in April.
The Hawks rank 12th out of 13 teams with just a 65.6 percent penalty kill rate. It also doesn’t have a goalie among the top 15 in the league in save percentage. Those alarming numbers are not lost on Robinson.
“We have won a lot of games but we are playing what I would call regular season hockey,” he said. “We are flexing our muscles offensively, which is great and I have been quite happy to run this course for a while, but the starkness of the reality is we are second to last in killing penalties and the sample size has grown to the point where you can’t ignore it anymore.”
If the Hawks’ concerns can be summed up in one game it was last month’s 5-4 home ice overtime loss to the Wolf Pack. Delta outshot the visitors 44-28 but surrendered four power play goals and gave up an odd man rush for the OT winner.
“Our PK has to be better and the saying is your best penalty killer needs to be your goalie,” continued Robinson. “At the same token, the style of game we play is run and gun and it can leave the goalie hung out to dry. When we do give up those odd man rushes that’s where you have a good goalie not to be taken advantage of.”
On paper, the Ice Hawks have excellent depth in net with 19-year-old Euerby, 18-year-old Justin Wagner and 17-year-old Merik Erickson. When Wagner returns from an injury, the plan is to rotate all three to see which goaltender will take the No. 1 job heading into February’s playoffs.
“If you to go on the road against a good team and win then you have to be committed to play defense and stay out of the box,” added Robinson. “I gave them a warning that I have been pretty liberal with ice time and deployment, not benching guys for a turnover. But I’m going to start tightening the screws. We have a stretch of games going into Christmas that are important for our positioning and then a stretch to get ready for playoffs.”
Impressive 17-year-old rookie Dalton MacGillivray continues to lead the PJHL in scoring with 46 points in 21 games, including 20 goals. Captain Alec Scouras from Tsawwassen sits tied for second with 44 points.