WEST FARGO — Fargo Davies lost its leading scorer this year, Cade Stibbe, to the Minot Minotauros of the NAHL. But the Eagles didn’t play like they were down a Division I hockey commit.
Junior forward Gavin Balvitsch notched three goals to help lift Davies to a 6-1 season-opener win over West Fargo Sheyenne on Tuesday.
"It feels good to get that first one out of the way," said Davies head coach Nate Metcalf, who's in his first year with the team. "I think we put a lot of pressure on them for probably half the game. I think we realized and found we have a lot of work to do yet. We had 34 shots on net, I think we probably could've got a few more in there. They blocked a lot of shots, props to them."
The Eagles also had the help of Cade Stibbe's sophomore brother, Barron, who put up a pair of goals at West Fargo Sports Arena.
"We really looked forward to getting some of these sophomores in there and getting them in key situations," Metcalf said. "They're such hard workers and talented kids. We knew they could do that day in and day out, and we're going to rely on them heavily this year."
Davies successfully fought off all five of its penalties, including a 5 on 3. The Eagles hadn't practiced much penalty kill heading into the game, which Metcalf wants to improve.
"We want to work on cleaning that (penalty kill) up a bit," Metcalf said. "But we have a really good locker room. A lot of people play a lot of different positions. We just have good, smart hockey players."
Davies jumped on the Mustangs as soon as the puck dropped. The Eagles fired their first shot on goal less than 10 seconds after the period started, and Sheyenne's junior goaltender Tyler Swanson recorded four saves in the first three minutes.
It didn't take long for the Eagles to get on the board. Balvitsch gave the Eagles an early lead on an unassisted goal less than four minutes into the period. Davies could've had another one on a puck Cam Bullinger put in the back of Sheyenne's net through Swanson's five-hole, but the goal was called off.
The Eagles quickly made it a 2-0 lead, adding another first-period goal by Barron Stibbe, assisted by Max Larson. Davies had an opportunity to stretch their lead on a power play soon after, but the Mustangs fought off the hooking call.
With 2minutes, 27 seconds to go in the first frame, Sheyenne's Kai Trudeau put up the first goal for the Mustangs. Kole Fitzpatrick hit Trudeau with a pass in front of Davies' net, and the puck hit the crossbar and went in.
Davies played almost all of the first period in Sheyenne's zone, but the Eagles played their fair share of defense in the second frame. Davies' goalie Nate Gulsvig doubled the amount of saves (7) he had in the first (3).
After 13 minutes of scoreless action in the second, junior forward Balvitsch put up his second goal of the game for the Eagles, scoring right off the face off from the top of the bubble to make it 3-1.
The Mustangs started the third on a power play, firing two shots on goal, but none that got past Gulsvig.
Barron Stibbe tallied his second score of the night three minutes into the third, assisted by Bullinger this time, stretching Davies' lead to three (4-1).
The Mustangs had the opportunity to capitalize on a 5 on 3, but Davies killed another pair of penalties. Balvitsch then tallied his third goal of the night 11 minutes in.
Dylan Jensen capped the 6-1 Eagles win with 21 seconds left in the game on a goal assisted by Drew Fleming.
Sheyenne's student section wore red for the season opener in honor of their classmate, 16-year-old Ben Merck, who died Tuesday morning from ALS complications, a disease he was diagnosed with a month ago. A few of the players also had red stick tape for Merck's favorite team, the Houston Rockets.
Davies and Sheyenne saw each other twice last year, with Davies picking up both wins (10-0, 14-1). The game was a lot closer this time around.
The Mustangs boys hockey team finished second to last in the East Region conference last year at 4-17-1 overall. Davies went 18-9 overall, and reached the boys state hockey title game for the first time last year, falling short in the championship. Both of the teams’ top scorers from last season are gone.
The Eagles next play Mound Westonka in the Marshall Invite at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, in Marshall, Minn. The Mustangs next face another conference opponent in Fargo South-Shanley at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at West Fargo Sports Arena.
FIRST PERIOD: 1, FD, Balvitsch, 3:47. 2, FD, Stibbe (Larson), 7:54. 3, WFS, Trudeau (Fitzpatrick), 14:33.
SECOND PERIOD: 4, FD, Balvitsch, 13:14.
THIRD PERIOD: 5, FD, Stibbe (Bullinger), 3:38. 6, FD, Balvitsch (Schmidt), 11:15. 7, FD, Jensen (Fleming), 16:39.
SAVES: WFS, Swanson 8-13-7—28. FD, Gulsvig 3-7-11—21.