As the new year dawned and junior hockey returned back to action following the holiday break, the Jr. Blues welcomed the Peoria Mustangs back to St. Louis for the final regular-season meetings between the two rivals. Peoria was entering the games with something to prove, having gone 1-2 at the NA3HL Showcase and wanting to chip into the Jr. Blues’ lead in the Midwest Division, which at the start of the weekend stood at 19 points.
Before a big Saturday crowd featuring several Jr. Blues alumni home from college, St. Louis jumped out to the lead at 5:44 of the 1st, Dawson Marshall claiming his third goal of the season assisted by Ben Jones. The rest of the period was largely a physical battle between the two clubs, until 12 seconds left in the period, when Matt Hohl sent a long, up-and-under pass towards the Mustangs end. Jack Hatton took advantage of a miscue from a Peoria defenseman to spring Jake Cox, who rounded the goalie for his 18th goal of the year (13th with St. Louis) to double the lead heading into the dressing room. Peoria would pull one back in the second, as both clubs could not score in what remained a slow-paced affair, and it remained 2-1 until the 15:41 mark of the 3rd, when Ivan Galaguzov netted his 23rd of the season on the powerplay, the assists credited to Hatton and Cam McAtee. Peoria would reply less than a minute later, but despite their best efforts they could not get the goalie pulled late and the Jr. Blues ran out 3-2 winners. Blake Bjella stopped 17 of 19 shots, with the Jr. Blues winning the shot battle 24-19.
Sunday’s game saw the Jr. Blues return to their usual free-flowing, high-scoring style, starting when McAtee cashed in on an opportunistic wrist-shot at 3:16 of the opening frame, Hunter Muzzillo assisting. They would go up by 2 at 9:46, courtesy of Galaguzov from McAtee and Hatton, and made it 3 at 16:36, Cox scoring his second of the weekend from Ben Jones. The 2nd period saw St. Louis twice take advantage of indiscipline from the Mustangs with power-play goals, Galaguzov from Hatton just 47 seconds into the middle term and then again at 4:22, Cox adding his brace from Galaguzov and Hatton and chasing the Mustangs starting goalie in the process. Marshall would continue his hot weekend with his second goal at 6:02, assisted by Joe Papa and Dylan Carroll to give the hosts a 6-0 advantage after 40 minutes. Peoria would score twice early in the 3rd, before Cox completed his hat-trick (assisted by Tom Yurisich) at 8:38 to send the Jr. Blues 23 points clear of Peoria with a 6-2 win. Bjella started his second game of the weekend and made 22 saves, as St. Louis outshot the Mustangs 53-24.
Up next for the Jr. Blues is the rekindling of a rivalry that stretches back to the 1980s as they welcome the Metro Jets back to St. Louis. Game times are January 13 at 7:30 pm and January 14 at 1 pm.