20-year-old forward Kirk Mullen scored twice in back-to-back games helping the Steinbach Pistons open the 2023-24 regular season with a pair of wins.
On Friday night, the Pistons returned to Virden for a rematch of the two clubs who faced off in the MJHL Championship last season.
In the opening minutes of the game, both teams took a little time to find their groove but as the period went along, Steinbach started to take over both in puck control and territorially.
Despite that, it was the Oil Capitals who managed to get the first marker deflecting a point shot past a screened Cole Plowman to make it 1-0.
A power play a few minutes later gave the Pistons the chance to knot the game up and they did just that as Kirk Mullen wired home his first of the year off a nice pass from Parker Jasper, making it a 1-1 contest.
Prior to the game, 20-year-old forward Leo Chambers was named the captain for this year and less than two minutes after the Mullen goal, he gave his team the lead for the first time. Chambers cashed in after driving hard to the net with the whole play being set up thanks to some good work by Brett Kaiser.
With the two quick strikes, the Pistons were up 2-1 heading into the intermission.
The second period was mostly controlled by Steinbach. They owned the puck for stretches, forced turnovers in the offensive zone, and refused to give up anything defensively.
Mullen struck again in the late stages as he took a wonderful pass from newcomer Connor Paronuzzi who pounced on a puck that was turned over thanks to the hard work by Brandon Funk, fed a sneaky feed to the waiting Mullen who tapped home his second of the night, 3-1 Pistons after 40.
Steinbach started the third shorthanded and it was the penalty killers that would extend the lead.
Captain Chambers stepped up near his blueline to negate a Virden entry and his heads-up presence and stick play managed to free up the puck to a streaking Grady Hoffman who wondered into the offensive zone almost waiting for an Oil Caps player to step up and try to take the puck away. No one did so he just kept going in until he was in position and wired a perfect shot home for his first MJHL goal.
It looked as though Steinbach was in total control but a rare miscue in the defensive zone allowed Virden to keep a play alive, get the puck to the point, and sift a shot through to cut the lead to 4-2.
In the second half of the period, a weird and whacky turnover gifted the Oil Caps another goal to make it 4-3.
With 2:35 left to go in a one-goal game, the Oil Caps pulled the goalie looking for the equalizer.
The 20-year-old Plowman stepped up huge in the final minutes making a number of very tricky saves, keeping his team up a goal. He was also aided by some big-time blocks in front of him by Spencer Penner and others.
Plowman's best save was off a shot through traffic right along the ice but he was able to fight through the wildness in front of him, kick out his pad, and direct the puck away.
"I have no idea how you saw that, it's just an incredible save," a staff member said to him after the game. "I didn't like that third goal and I knew I didn't want them to get a fourth", Plowman said with a smile in response.
Special teams factored in as Steinbach went 1-3 on the power play and 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. The Pistons outshot Virden 36-32.
Going To School On A Saturday
Coming off a win the night before, Steinbach managed to do du just enough to earn a 3-2 win over the Selkirk Steelers to improve to 2-0 on the year.
In the early stages of the first, the Steelers cut a path to the penalty box giving the Pistons a chance to work with the man advantage.
While they didn't score on the first chance, after Selkirk took a 5-minute major for checking from behind, the Pistons did get on the board.
Once again, it was Kirk Mullen putting his team up as the dynamic sniper took a wonderful pass from Noah Szabo and wired home his third of the year. Parker Jasper also picked up an assist on the opening goal.
Despite having more chances on the power play, it was the only goal the Pistons could muster right up until the final minutes when again, Mullen would score after Brandon Funk used his speed and tenacity to turn a puck over behind Selkirk's net, flip it out in front over the goal and Mullen knocked it out of the air and in to make it 2-0. Connor Paronuzzi also nabbed a helper on the marker.
Last season Mullen scored 15 goals in 33 games. Through the first 2 this year, he's already at 4.
Early in the second, the Pistons gave up their first goal while short-handed as the Steelers cut the lead in half to 2-1.
In the third, Grady Hoffman crashed the net and buried his second of the season to restore Steinbach's two-goal lead, 3-1. Leo Chambers and Liam Doyle were given credit for the assists.
Selkirk managed to get one back making this more interesting at 3-2.
Rookie goalie Beck Liden (pronounced LEE-DAN) was rock solid all game long making big-time saves while also never feeling like he wasn't in control.
Once again, some big blocks by Spencer Penner and David Cote helped keep the score 3-2 Steinbach as the horn sounded.
The Pistons were outshot according to the Steeler's shot counter 34-19. The power play was 1-6 while the penalty kill was 3-4.
The home opener for Steinbach is set for Thursday at their new digs, the HyLife Centre in La Broquerie. The Portage Terriers come to town followed by a visit by the Winkler Flyers. Tickets go on sale Monday. There's a pre-game BBQ happening in the parking lot prior to the game.