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WarHawks' comeback falls short in OT

SAUK RAPIDS—The Willmar WarHawks appeared to be heading towards another ugly loss after a rough first period but battled back to earn a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to West Division leaders Granite City Saturday night.

The WarHawks lost the first game of the home-and-home series on Friday night in lopsided fashion and things didn't go well for them in the opening minutes of Saturday night's affair either. The Lumberjacks got on the board 1:43 after the drop of the puck with a goal from Will Mix. Contrary to the previous night, WIllmar bounced back to tie things at 1-1 with 7:01 remaining in the period when Riley Tigrett tipped in a shot from Kane Toriumi. Former Lumberjack Jack Walter, who joined the WarHawks last week, earned the second assist, his third point since joining Willmar.

Friday night flashbacks were plentiful in the final minute of the period as Willmar took back-to-back penalties for roughing and slashing and Granite City took advantage. Ryan Smith scored the go-ahead goal with the Lumberjacks playing a 5-on-3 and Keenan Lund scored a standard power play goal right as the buzzer went to take a 3-1 lead into the period.

"We took bad penalties, just stupid penalties that we have no business taking," said Willmar head coach Chris Blaisuis. "That's what got us in that first period. We never lost our nerve, though, we kept battling."

Willmar goaltender Alex Cathcart started the game but was forced to give way to fellow netminder Alex Weissenborn after being run into at a point in the first period that led to concussion-like symptoms.

The WarHawks struck again in the third period after a scoreless second to cut the lead in half after a Riley Dixon goal 9:00 into the period. Kyle Wendorf knotted things up when he converted a penalty shot after being dragged down with just over four minutes to play in the game.

"We played a great third period," Blaisuis said. "When the game was five-on-five we dominated."

The overtime period didn't go as well as the WarHawks would have hoped. Granite City's Braden Altena scored on his team's second shot of the power play to give his team the victory.

"The guy made a great shot," Blaisuis said. "It was a fun game. It was well-played, competitive and both teams showed up. I'm a competitve guy so it's tough to say after a loss but I'm not upset at all. Especially after the way we played last night and to come back like we did tonight was big. I told the guys I'm proud of them. We battled back and did what a playoff team does, we came back against our division's top team and forced it to overtime. At that point we were playing with house money. We battled, we fought, we scraped our way to overtime."

The WarHawks will wrap up the weekend with a matinee against Breezy Point, a game that could have major playoff implications. The North Stars are now in fourth place with a six point lead on the WarHawks for the final playoff spot from the West Division. A win would put Willmar four points behind Breezy Point with two fewer games played.

The puck drops a 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Willmar Civic Center.

Granite City 4, Willmar 3 OT

Willmar 1 0 2 0 — 3

Granite City 3 0 0 1 — 4

FIRST PERIOD — GC: Will Mix (Tucker Bjorlin, Casey Esselman) 1:43 ... W: Riley Tigrett (Kane Toriumi, Jack Walter) 12:59 ... GC: Ryan Smith (Owen Sikich, Jordan Olson) 19:05 pp ... GC: Keenan Lund (Esselman) 19:59 pp

SECOND PERIOD — No goals scored

THIRD PERIOD — W: Riley Dixon (Max Oelkers, Braden Shea) 9:00 ... W: Kyle Wendorf 15:59 ps

OVERTIME — GC: Braden Altena (Spencer Nelson) 1:24

GOALIE SAVES — Willmar: Alex Cathcart 8, Alex Weissenborn 26 ... Granite City: Mac Berglove 18

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