Written by Ian Hamilton
One of the smallest players on the ice is still savouring the biggest night of his hockey career.
Regina's Tristan Frei - all 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds of him - had four goals and two assists Tuesday as the host Melfort Mustangs downed the Nipawin Hawks 7-6 in overtime in Game 3 of a bestof-seven SJHL semifinal. Frei's fourth goal of the contest, at 1:03 of the first OT period, gave Melfort a 2-1 series lead entering tonight's Game 4 in Nipawin.
On Wednesday, Frei said he'd never had a six-point game in his playing career. Nor had he ever scored an overtime winner.
"Throughout the day (Tuesday), everything was going my way," Frei, 19, said
from Melfort. "I had a good sleep, I had a good meal - it was just one of those days for me. Then, during the game, my linemates got me the puck and all I had to do was put it in the net.
"But it's still a shock." Frei's showing was the kind of performance Mustangs head coach Trevor Blevins has come to expect from his second-year centre.
"When people talk about a 200-foot player, that's what he is," Blevins said of the former Regina Pat Canadians captain, referring to his offensive and defensive abilities.
"He plays like he's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He brings it every game and every shift ... He's not scared of anything. He takes hits to make plays, he goes to the hard areas of the rink and he wins battles. Whether you're 5-foot-9 or 6-foot-3, you've got to do that
to be successful."
Luckily for Frei, that's the way he's wired.
After scoring nine goals and adding 10 assists in 52 regular-season games as an SJHL rookie, Frei nearly tripled his offensive production this season. He had 51 points, including 15 goals, in 55 games to finish in a tie for 10th in league scoring.
His outburst Tuesday gave him nine goals and 15 points through eight games this post-season, making him the leading scorer in the playoffs entering Wednesday's action.
Frei believes the keys to his growth are the time he spent in the gym and in critiquing his own game.
"My whole life, people have been telling me I'm smaller than everyone else, but that's not going to stop me," he said. "I try to do everything I can to make myself equal to everyone on the ice."
He also pointed to the work of his linemates, Justin Boyer and Travis Mayan. Boyer had three assists in Tuesday's game and Mayan had five helpers.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Boyer finished ninth in the regular-season scoring race with 52 points, including 20 goals. Mayan, a 5-foot-10, 160-pounder, was the league leader in goals (40) and points (84) in the regular season.
Collectively, the trio is known as the Minions, after the diminutive stars of the Despicable Me movies.
"Everyone in Melfort and around the league knows the Minions," Frei said. "There are signs in the rinks and everything. It's kind of cool." The linemates succeed because of their friendship off the ice - Frei and Mayan live in the same house and Boyer is a frequent visitor - and the chemistry they've developed on the ice.
That said, Blevins wasn't sure the line would work.
"At the start of the year, I was a little skeptical," due to the players' size, the head coach said. "But the first time I put them together, they just took off and I haven't taken them apart since."
They haven't stopped because they talk things through regularly and work together on their games every chance they get.
"We know as a smaller line it's going to be tough, but we use our speed to our advantage," Frei said. "There's a bunch of big defencemen in this league and I don't think they can handle our speed as much as they'd like."
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