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Weekend sweep has Kings moving up the standings

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The Manitoba Junior Hockey League is so tight this season, a win can propel a team two or three spots up the standings. Or teams can fall two or three spots with a loss.
As it stands right now, the fourth place Selkirk Steelers are only six points ahead of the 10th place OCN Blizzard. And the 11th-place Neepawa Natives are not that far back, sitting 10 points out of fourth.
The Dauphin Kings entered the week in seventh place, but with wins in two of three games, they are now tied in points with the Steelers with 29, though Selkirk has two games in hand.
And third place is not out of reach by any means for either team as the Steinbach Pistons are just four points ahead of both Selkirk and Dauphin.
So considering how close the league is this year, every game is important and you cannot take a night off.
If you do, you get what the Kings experienced Wednesday when the Portage Terriers made their first visit to Credit Union Place, skating away with an 8-2 win.
The outcome was never really in doubt. Portage carried a 2-0 lead into the first intermission and increased it to 5-0 before rookie Carter Sawchuk finally put the Kings on the board late in the frame.
Portage put the game away with three more in the third before Jacob Evans rounded out the scoring in the last minute of play.
The final shots, which were 47-17 in favour of the Terriers, was indicative of Portage’s domination.
“It wasn’t a game. Only one team showed up and it sure wasn’t us,” Kings coach and general manager Doug Hedley said of Wednesday’s encounter with Portage.
“It was like keep away. That’s what happens when you watch. When you’re a spectator and other guys are skating, it’s pretty tough to play.”
Hedley called it the worst game he has seen in probably three years or more. It is one of those games, he added, the Kings have to put behind them right away.
“You can’t over think it. There’s two ways you can do it. You can sit and talk and try to rationalize and think it’s a one-off or you bag the shit out of them. Kids are different now. They don’t respond to the same thing that they used to,” he added, noting the Kings held an optional skate the next day followed by a meeting.
The big news coming from the team on Thursday was the pending trade of goalie Brennan Kitchen, who went the distance in net against Portage.
“(He has) a different philosophy that what I have and what we need to do to move ahead in the culture. We just straightened some things out. The room is good right now. It’s just a matter of us moving forward,” Hedley said.
With Kitchen waiting for a trade, the Kings acquired 18-year-old goaltender Brendan Benoit from the Neepawa Natives for future considerations.
After hooking up for the off-ice transaction, the two teams met on the ice in a home-and-home on the weekend.
Earlier in the season, Dauphin outshot Neepawa 52-25, but lost 4-3.
On Friday, it looked like the Kings would once again fall to the Natives on the road as Neepawa built a 4-1 lead 3:05 into the third period, with Riley Shamray netting Dauphin’s goal.
Unlike their previous encounter, the Kings were able to come all the way back to tie the game on goals from Avery Smith, Nakodan Greyeyes and Eamonn Miller on a power-play with 1:08 left in regulation with the goalie on the bench for an extra attacker.
Jaxon Heeney then snapped home a shot over the glove of Neepawa’s Kolby Thornton with 27 seconds left in overtime to lift the Kings to the victory.
The next night in Dauphin, the Kings skated away with a 5-2 win, netting three unanswered goals, two into an empty net, after Neepawa tied the game at two midway through the third period.
Shamray scored twice for the Kings, while Sammy Mouland, Sawchuk and Bradyn Smelski had the other markers.
“These wins were huge for us. So starting last night, we came back for a big win. Tonight, we get (two) points. Now, if we get another three wins in the next week, then we’re looking at doing something this year,” Hedley said.
Up until now, teams have had 45 cards to work with when it comes to signing players. That all changes, Dec. 1, when the number of cards is reduced to 25. How the Kings fare in their games Wednesday against Winnipeg and Friday against Virden could determine if they are buyers or sellers at the end of the week.
The upcoming deadline, Hedley said, was discussed at Thursday’s meeting.
“The 20-year-olds want to win this year. So we want to do something with them. There’s also reality when you play a game like you did against Portage that you’re not going to sell the farm to get a couple of 20-year-olds for this year. For top end guys to come here, we’ve got to play good as a team. It’s just the way it is,” he said.
“We need three or four wins in a row and get back up in the top four spots. And then, who knows?”
Despite the win, Saturday, Hedley feels the Kings could play better.
“At times I think we played with a little bit of pressure. I don’t think we’re as good as we have been. Certainly not away from the puck and speed. But, you’ve got to give Neepawa credit, too. They’ve got some speed and they work hard. They just don’t quit. It’s a big four points for us,” he said.
With Kitchen gone, the netminding duties fell on the shoulders of towering 18-year-old rookie Bryan Landsberger. The six-foot, six-inch Montreal native made 39 saves in Friday’s overtime win and stopped 27 shots in Saturday’s home-ice victory.
“I thought Landsberger was very good tonight (Saturday). I thought he played very good, made some saves when it was very close,” Hedley said, adding Landsberger will get the start in two of this week’s three games.
Despite the acquisition of Benoit, Hedley said the Kings are looking for experience in goal. They may have the answer sitting in Mount Hope. Ont., the hometown of 19-year-old netminder Ethan Slobodzian, who the Kings acquired from the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League about three weeks ago. The Kings will find out in the next couple of days whether he will report or not.
Hedley said Slobodzian helped Grande Prairie win their first-round playoff series last season.
“He was very good and my guy in Alberta says he can play. He’s definitely a legit number one,” Hedley said.
After hosting Winnipeg and Virden, Dauphin hits the road to begin December, with a tilt against the OCN Blizzard, Saturday in OCN.

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Doug Zywina
REPORTER
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