Following a bounce-back sweep of Evansville, the Jr. Blues packed up their bags and embarked on their longest road trip of the season: a 623-mile jaunt to Sauk Rapids, Minnesota to face the defending Fraser Cup champion Granite City Lumberjacks. The two sides had met earlier in the season at Affton with the Jr. Blues winning both matches, and if that series was anything to go by the return fixtures would be hard-fought, evenly-matched, and indeed excellent games of hockey.
Friday night’s game saw the hosts jump out to an early 2-0 lead, scoring twice within 45 seconds to put the Jr. Blues on the back foot. In what became a theme for the series, St. Louis would get chances via the power-play and have the advantage in terms of shots, but goals would be hard to come by for either side. After a goalless second period, the Jr. Blues would finally get on the scoreboard at 5:09 of the third period, Dante Jones continuing his torrid stretch with an unassisted goal. St. Louis would continue to push for an equalizer, but indiscipline would be their undoing as the Jacks scored a power-play goal later in the 3rd to restore the two-goal advantage. Despite St. Louis’ best efforts, they fell 3-1, Blake Bjella stopping 22 of 25 shots as the Jr. Blues outshot the hosts 32-25.
Saturday night’s re-match once again saw the Lumberjacks strike first, but unlike the previous night it only took the Jr. Blues several minutes to restore parity, Will Baginski scoring on the power-play from Ben Jones at 11:55. However, Granite City would re-gain the lead later in the 1st while on the man advantage, and despite many good chances (including a 5-minute major power play) and a 17-8 shot advantage for the Jr. Blues in the 2nd period, the score remained 2-1 in favor of the hosts going into the final term. St. Louis finally found an equalizer at 9:01 of the 3rd, when Jake Cox re-directed a Mark Capkovic shot home for his 26th tally of the year, Jack Hatton picking up the secondary assist. Both sides pressed hard to take the lead after that, but with 1:05 remaining Granite City was able to find the back of the net, going home 3-2 and making the season series between these two clubs an even split: two wins each, with both sides holding serve on home ice. St. Louis again won the shot battle, this time 42-26, with Bjella making 23 saves and unlucky to take the loss.
After two long weekends on the road, St. Louis will return to the friendly confines of the Affton Ice Rink this weekend to face the Atlanta Capitals. Game times are February 3 at 4 pm and February 4 at 1 pm.