Nikolaj Ehlers (CP Images)
No. 1 Star - Connor Gay, Regina Pats (WHL)
Friday's Regina-Swift Current contest was probably the most important played in Canada in terms of postseason implications. The Pats came into the game with a six-point lead over the Broncos with eight games to play (nine for Swift Current) for the lead in the Western Hockey League's East Division. With so many teams jamming the league's Central Division, the difference between winning the East and coming second will mean the difference between a 2-seed and a 6-seed come playoff time.
The Pats cemented control of the division with a big home win. The game featured a couple of lead changes and ended up being won by 95-born Connor Gay late in the overtime frame for his 15th goal on the season, on a pass from Dyson Stevenson, who also had a one-goal, one-assist game. Gay had also scored early in the third period to tie the contest at 2s, so both of his goals were of the timely variety. The Pats got to exit the game with a seven-point lead over Swift Current instead of a four-point lead, a near-insurmountable gap at this stage in the season.
No. 2 Star: Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Stop me if you've heard this one before: a draft-eligible player on the Halifax Mooseheads scored a natural hat-trick and recorded four points in his team's 6-0 win over Acadie-Bathurst. Sometimes les Trois Étoiles on Buzzing the Net are reserved for players that produce in key situations in close games, but there weren't an awful lot of close affairs in the Q Friday, and it's tough to discount a three-goal performance from a draft-eligible player. In Friday's case, it was the Danish Ehlers (good name for a band) recording the trick.
Ehlers' three consecutive goals came within a 7:14 span in the second period, scoring twice in the first minute and adding a shortie for his 40th of the season. Teammate Jonathan Drouin recorded a pair of assists, and defenceman Austyn Hardie had a rare three-point night, bringing his season points total to 17. He was also a +6 in the 6-0 game. To most teams that's an excellent night from a defenceman, but to the Mooseheads it's an indication that the team's powerplay needs to shape up after going 0-for-4 in Acadie-Bathurst.
No. 3 Star: Sam Bennett, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
This game also wasn't close, but the prospective No. 1 pick in the upcoming National Hockey League draft scored a hat-trick of his own in Kingston's dominant 10-2 win over Belleville. After going down 1-0 early in the first, the Fronts rallied and took a commanding 5-1 lead into the break, with Bennett factoring in on two goals. First, he drew the primary assist on Spencer Watson's 33rd of the year before scoring his own 39 seconds later, and then tacking on another in the final minute of the frame.
Bennett completed the hat-trick 5:38 into the second on a pass from Samuel Schutt, the second of Schutt's two assists on the night. Head coach Todd Gill gave started Matt Mahalak the night off, giving Lucas Peressini the pipes to stop 37-of-39 shots on goal. Draft-eligible Roland McKeown recorded an assist and was also a +4.
Honourable Mention: The Sudbury Wolves (OHL) - The Wolves strung together a comeback against one of the league's best teams Friday night. Despite being down 5-0 with a little over 7 minutes to go in the second period, Sudbury rallied in front of the home fans, getting goals from Jacob Harris and Radek Faksa before the period was out, before going into Beast Mode in the third. Trevor Carrick, Nathan Pancel and Ray Huether all scored in the final minutes of the period to tie the score (Faksa, Carrick, and Pancel's goals were all on the powerplay) before Nick Baptiste blew the roof off the Sudbury Community Arena to give the Wolves a 6-5 lead with 2:17 on the clock. The Wolves hung on for the win, and do London and Erie a huge favour in the process.Read More »from Gay scores OT winner, Wolves rally, big night for draft eligibles Ehlers and Bennett in Friday’s 3 Stars