Blowout victories were the theme of Winnipeg's first four games of the WHL's 2021-22 regular season.
Turns out the Ice are pretty good in close games, too.
On Saturday night, Winnipeg completed a home-and-home sweep of the Regina Pats, gutting out a 6-3 win before 1,621 fans at Wayne Fleming Arena. The hosts survived a penalty-filled opening period tied 2-2 and exploded for three goals in the middle frame to take control.
Leading the way was centre Matt Savoie, who potted his second and third goals of the season, won nine of 17 faceoffs and added an assist to improve his team-leading point total to 12.
After a relatively quiet start to the season, the 17-year-old from St. Albert, Alta., has been a dangerous offensive threat and he played perhaps his best all-around game in a Ice uniform Saturday. He also had two assists in Winnipeg's 4-2 win in Regina Friday.
"Every game I'm just trying to get better, you know, stay up to speed and keep developing," said Savoie. "Obviously it's my draft year and I think it's important to keep improving and my coaches are really good harping on that. I think they've done a really good job helping me with that."
Cole Muir, Connor McClennon, Zach Benson and Swiss import Max Streule, with his first WHL career goal and a handful of big bodychecks, also scored for the winners, now an East Division-leading 6-0-0-0 and off to the best start in franchise history.
Head coach James Patrick wasn't a fan of his club's opening 20 minutes — outshot 16-7 by the visitors — and he challenged his players to raise their games.
"I thought this was a great experience for us to play against a team that came out hungrier than us, who totally outplayed us," said Patrick. "After the first period I thought they were going to get 50 shots… I thought our skill allowed us to be tied after the first period but you know we were losing races, losing battles and then I did not like our system in the neutral zone — just allowing them to come through…
"I really liked our response in the second half of the game."
Winnipeg has not trailed this season while outscoring its opponents a combined 40-10.
Drew Englot, Logan Nijhoff, Cole Dubinsky replied with goals for the 2-5-0-0 Pats, who have not received one point from superstar centre Connor Bedard in three meetings with the Ice.
Savoie, with linemates Owen Pederson and McClennon, was a big reason for Bedard's quiet night.
"I really liked their line — a really skilled line that can play any type of game," said Patrick. "Just the way the game was going (Friday) night in Regina I thought Matt and his line was the only line that can match up against Bedard. And so we kind of made the switch up last night and they started to maybe outplay them a little."
Added Savoie: "Our offence has been clicking really well and when we stick to our structure we're really good in the defensive zone as well. I think we can definitely be better defensively and we're going to work on that."
Daniel Hauser made 24 saves in the Winnipeg net. Regina goaltender Drew Sim, acquired from the Vancouver Giants Wednesday for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2024 draft, stopped 23 shots.
The Ice complete a three-game weekend by hosting the Swift Current Broncos Sunday at 5 p.m.
BLUE-LINES: Ice defenceman Karter Prosofsky served the final game of a two-game suspension after he was assessed a charging major and game misconduct in a game against visiting Prince Albert Oct. 9… Winnipeg's other scratches included forwards James Form and Brayden Edwards and defencemen Brandt Young and Owen Boucher… Winnipeg scored once in three power-play chances. The Pats went 0-for-5… Three stars: 1. Matt Savoie, Winnipeg; 2. Carson Lambos, Winnipeg; 3. Skyler Bruce, Winnipeg.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sawa14
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.