After winning the championship in the 2015 Heartland Novice Hockey League summer season, the Heartland Red Liners returned with essentially their team intact. But the other seven teams remained busy in the office season wheeling and dealing various players and recruiting other skaters to bolster their rosters.
These Red Liners faced off with an old foe, Jokerit, who were the leagues best regular season team by far. The Liners’ goalie, Rocket, remained in rehab after the previous season but was expected to return by the start of this season. He did have a slight setback and expected to be ready next week. In his place, I B Lee stood between the pipes. The rust was evident on the Liners players as they had difficulty maintaining any offensive threat against the strong Jokerit defense. Jokerit had their star player to score all of their four goals who was fresh off a summer break in Sweden and opting to skate in a lower division to pad his stats. The shutout gave the Liners a swift kick in the rear and reminded them that they needed to play their best to maintain their championship title.
The Red Liners second matchup of the season was against the Polar Vortex who also strengthened their roster. A twelve man bench along with the return of Rocket in the net skated stronger against the Vortex. They did a better job swarming the net and keeping the pressure on the Vortex netminder. The first period remained scoreless but DJ PJ broke through in the second period. He picked up a deflected cross slot shot from Evan and fired it inside the far post. The Vortex would tie it back up minutes later after picking off a cross-ice clearing pass and catching Rocket off guard. Bleech would help the Liners regain the lead with a pinballed slapshot they bounced through traffic and into the net. Unfortunately, the Vortex got two lucky bounces in the third period to regain the lead. For the remaining half of the third period, the Liners scrambled trying to tie up the score but just did not get the right bounce. The coaching staff found positives with the better passing and forechecking. They will have to improve their defensive stand a bit better.