C-Hawks, Rams split first two games of NCHL finals

With the Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks and Russell Rams each winning last week, the North Central Hockey League finals became a best-of-three affair.

The C-Hawks flew to a 7-4 victory in game one at home on Friday. On Sunday in Russell, the C-Hawks suffered their first loss of the season, 5-1. The series is a matchup of the league’s top two teams from the regular season – the South Division champion C-Hawks (20-0-0) and North Division victors, the Rams (14-6-0). With the teams knotted at 1-1, the senior hockey league finals were slated to continue on Thursday in Russell.

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“For Thursday, we need to play at a high tempo and keep offensive zone pressure on Russell,” Miniota-Elkhorn assistant coach Garth Mitchell said. “Good defensive structure in all three zones, capitalizing on our offensive chances and making sound puck decisions will be the main keys for success.”

Game four is set for March 20 in Russell.  If a fifth and final contest is needed, it would take place in Elkhorn on March 22.

The C-Hawks came out strong last Friday night and punished the visiting Rams for penalties. Miniota-Elkhorn outscored Russell, 5-1, in the opening frame. Three of those goals came on the powerplay. Both teams lit the lamp twice in the second period. The Rams had the third period’s lone goal.

“In the Friday night game, we did a very good job of playing with speed and created a number of powerplays, which allowed us to build a comfortable lead in that game,” Mitchell said. “Overall, it was a good team effort.”

Bradley Bowles paced Miniota-Elkhorn with four points. He recorded two goals and two assists. Also scoring for the C-Hawks were Curtis Gardham, Kelsey McLeod, Stacy Lowes, Brad Cole, and Taylor Sanheim. Miniota-Elkhorn goalie Cory Gardham made 29 saves on 33 shots. Jerrod Auger stopped 35 shots for Russell.

On Sunday night in Russell, the Rams got on the scoreboard first and gradually built upon their lead. Russell led 1-0 and 3-0 at the intermissions. Bradley Bowles had the C-Hawks’ only goal in a powerplay in the third period.

“On Saturday, we did not execute as sharply and had some puck management challenges,” Mitchell said. “Full marks to Russell, who played hard defensively and capitalized on their offensive opportunities.”

Cory Gardham had 16 saves. Auger made 35 on 36 shots.

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