WENATCHEE -- The Wenatchee Wild fell to the Traverse City North Stars in its opening game of the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament Tuesday night, 5-4. In a game that went back-and-forth for 60 minutes, defenseman Chris Heineman scored the game-winner for the North Stars with 34 seconds remaining in regulation.
The teams exchanged a pair of goals in the first period. Mark Miller gave the Wild its first lead of the tournament just over four minutes into the period. Miller corralled the puck off a dump-in by Alex McLean off the end wall and threw a quick shot at the cage that bounced into the net off North Stars goaltender Drew Strandberg. Traverse City came right back, tying the score on Andy Huff’s marker a little over a minute after Miller’s goal.
Duncan McKellar put the Wild back on top, 2-1, when he backhanded in a rebound at the 8:23 mark. Nathan Sliwinski and Adam McKenzie assisted. The North Stars evened the score again with less than six minutes remaining before the first intermission on Garrett Thompson’s power-play goal.
Traverse City took its first lead in the game 58 seconds into the second period when Eric McClintock scored his team’s second power-play goal of the contest. Wenatchee forced the third tie of the game with 5:35 left in the second frame on Dajon Mingo’s goal. Entering the offensive zone on a 2-on-2, Michael Di Puma faked a shot before sliding the puck to Mingo, who beat Strandberg on a shot from the top of the near circle.
Dan Radke put the North Stars back on top, 4-3, near the midpoint of the third period when he scored his team’s third power-play goal of the game. Later, with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Di Puma scored the equalizer on a wrist shot after a faceoff win by Miller in the far circle of Traverse City’s zone. The game appeared to be heading to overtime before Heineman scored the game-winner on a one-timer from the point off a faceoff win in the Wenatchee zone.
Wild netminder Brandon Jaeger stopped 22 of the 27 shots he faced. Strandberg made 22 saves on 25 shots. Chris Paliafito, who earned the win, made 13 saves on 14 shots after relieving Strandberg. The Wild struggled on the power play, going 0-for-8. Traverse City thrived on the man-advantage, scoring three goals on six opportunities.
Wenatchee’s second game of the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament, which will be played against West Division foe Fairbanks, is slated to begin at 6:35pm on Wednesday. The Wild swept Fairbanks in the divisional finals and went 8-1 against the Ice Dogs in the regular season.