On a night when no lead felt safe, Jakin Smallwood came through in the hour of need for the Winnipeg Ice Saturday night.
The 18-year-old right-winger from Leduc, Alta., potted the winning goal with less than eight minutes remaining in the third period to lift the Ice to a 6-5 triumph over the Brandon Wheat Kings in Western Hockey League action before a sellout crowd of 1,621 at Wayne Fleming Arena Saturday night.
Winnipeg also had a huge performance from 5-8, 156-pound right-winger Connor McClennon, who fired his first career WHL hat trick in a game that featured numerous turnovers, six fighting majors and frantic end-to-end action between the heated provincial rivals.
"It's pretty awesome," said McClennon, who had four two-goal games as a 16-year-old rookie in 2018-19.
"It was obviously good to get three but it was more important we got the two points because we let that one slip away (in Brandon) yesterday."
The Wheat Kings, who beat the Ice 7-4 Friday in Brandon, lead the season series 3-2 with five more head-to-head meetings remaining between the teams on the regular-season schedule.
Winnipeg improved to 14-11-1-0 overall while Brandon slipped to 12-15-1-0.
The Ice appeared to take control early in the second period when McClennon scored at the 39-second mark on the power play and then again at 3:19 while short-handed to push the hosts into a 3-1 lead.
But consecutive goals by Brandon's Linden McCallum, Cole Reinhardt and Luka Burzan gave the visitors a 4-2 lead despite being outshot 35-14 through 40 minutes.
Nino Kinder and McClennon, again, early in the third period put the hosts up 5-4. Burzan then popped his second of the night to set the stage for Smallwood's heroics.
"We really liked our game, but everything they got was self-induced," said McClennon. "Whether it was a bad turnover or an error in judgement, I'd say. Lots of their chances were off the rush — they didn't get much zone time. We were happy with our game but we've definitely gotta limit their rush chances."
Michal Teply opened scoring for Winnipeg in the first period before Brandon's Ridly Greig evened the score at 1-1 on a penalty shot.
"There's a lot of mistakes being made here tonight," said Wheat Kings assistant coach Don MacGillivray. "You can tell the teams don't like each other and at the same time there were a lot of frustrating parts of the game.
"Obviously, they got the better of us tonight but we'll look at the video and try to correct what we can and move forward. When you get five goals on the road you should get a win."
McClennon, meanwhile, upped his season total to nine goals in 26 games after scoring only once in his previous eight games.
"I'm definitely starting to find some confidence," said McClennon. "There was a stretch of eight games where I was missing the net or fanning on pucks... I'm a goal scorer so to get back on the scoresheet is important."
Winnipeg outshot Brandon 51-28 and went 1-for-8 on the power play. The visitors were 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
"We've got to have discipline and make sure we're not taking the needless penalties away from the play or penalties that are putting us in a bad spot," said MacGillivray. "Tonight it was the difference in the hockey game."
Noteworthy: Three stars: 1. Connor McClennon, Winnipeg (three goals); 2. Cole Reinhardt, Brandon (one goal, two assists); 3. Michal Teply, Winnipeg (one goal, two assists)... Brandon's Ethan Kruger and Winnipeg's Jesse Makaj were the goaltenders.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.