It might not have been the prettiest goal Sam Huston has ever scored, but for the 16-year-old defenceman from Brandon, Man., it was definitely the most memorable of his young junior hockey career.
With less than five minutes to play in the third period of Thursday’s annual Kootenay Ice Intrasquad game benefitting United Way – East Kootenay, Huston tallied the winning marker, putting Team White ahead for good in what had been a back-and-forth affair.
“It was a knuckle puck. I got a pass from my partner there and I just tried to find a lane,” Huston said after helping Team White to a 5-3 victory. “Luckily it went in the net.
“It felt pretty good. Hard not to smile there at the end.”
Huston, a ninth-round pick (198th overall) of the Ice at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, was one of many youngsters to star in the annual charity benefit game, which raised a total of $2,056 for United Way – East Kootenay.
While Huston provided the deciding offense, returning goaltender Keelan Williams turned aside 26 shots to backstop his team to victory.
“It feels good to go out there, get my feet under me and get a full game under me,” Williams said. “With these past games, you have to kind of split it up and you don’t really get a feel for the puck. Today, I got to get my feet under me, feel the puck and I feel great now.”
After a scoreless first period, Team Black took the early lead on a goal from 19-year-old Nathyn Mortlock.
The native of Medicine Hat, Alta., had himself a strong camp after coming to Cranbrook on a tryout following his release by the Regina Pats earlier this year.
The see-saw battle ensued as Team White drew even two minutes later with a goal from 17-year-old Noah Philp — younger brother of Ice veteran Luke Philp.
But the youngest Philp’s tying goal wasn’t a quick enough response as River Beattie put Team Black ahead 2-1 a matter of 32 seconds later.
Veteran Zak Zborosky snapped a shot that found the mask of goaltender Declan Hobbs before trickling through to pull Team White into a 2-2 tie heading into the third period.
With 20 minutes remaining to decide the annual intrasquad affair, Team White struck early in the third as 16-year-old Caden Benson redirected a point shot from 17-year-old Jason Wenzel.
As Williams stood tall for Team White, it was beginning to look as though Team Black wasn’t going to find ananswer until 17-year-old Jared Legien made it a 3-3 game midway through the final period.
Cue Huston, tack on an empty-net marker from 15-year-old Eli Lieffers, a 2015 fourth-round selection (78th), and that’s all she wrote as Team White claimed a 5-3 win.
For Huston, his second go at Kootenay Ice training camp represents his first opportunity at making the club and the youngster is doing all he can to learn as much as possible.
“It’s been unbelievable so far,” Huston said. “I love watching the older guys play, learning from them and hopefully transfer that to my game on the ice.
“I’ve learned a lot about hockey IQ watching what they do, how fast the game is and basically taking everything in as much as I can.”
Williams made 26 saves to claim the victory as Team Black outshot Team White by a narrow margin of 29-28.
“I’m just looking around watching for the play and the biggest thing I’m focusing on is myself and what I’m doing in my crease,” Williams said of his third-period mindset in the closely-contested affair. “I just do everything I can to hold the fort for my team and get the ‘W.’”
As an added bit of entertainment for the night, Team Black was coached by Ice alumni Nathan Lieuwen along with Matt Van Boeyen and Katie Murray of The Drive 102.9 FM.
On the other side, Ice alumni Adam Cracknell claimed his first victory as a WHL coach, assisted by Townsman sports editor Taylor Rocca.
The Ice open the 2015 WHL pre-season Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. when the Lethbridge Hurricanes visit Memorial Arena in Cranbrook.
Tickets are available for $10 at the Kootenay Ice office located in Western Financial Place.