Former Fort Frances Laker Brandon Bodnar delivered some solid performances over the weekend to help the Thunder Bay North Stars earn a split in the first two games of the best-of-seven SIJHL final against the host Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
Bodnar turned aside 38 shots, while Troy Sherman scored an unassisted goal with 5:18 left in regulation time, to lead the North Stars to a 3-2 comeback victory yesterday afternoon at the Memorial Arena.
The series is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 tomorrow night (April 17) at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.
After a lengthy delay when a pane of glass was shattered and replaced in the first minute of play, Dryden quickly opened the scoring as Ice Dogs' captain Trevor Kavanaugh ripped one off the post and in past Bodnar at 1:45.
The home side added to their cushion 5:40 into the second when Kris Hamlin fired a shot through Bodnar from the left wing to make it 2-0.
Thunder Bay responded a couple of shifts later on a fortuitous bounce off a Turner Santin attempt that hit a Dryden defender and went right to Bradley Thrower, who put the puck into the open side that Ice Dogs' starting goalie Landon Pavlisin had no chance on.
Santin then left one for Ryan Mignault, who wired the puck into the top right-hand corner to knot the affair at 2-2 later in the second.
It remained tied until the latter stages of regulation time, when Sherman corralled a loose bouncing puck just inside Dryden's blueline, darted in, and lifted a backhand that slipped its way past Pavlisin.
Dryden pulled Pavlisin late in the third to try to force overtime but to no avail.
Bodnar picked up the win while Pavlisin made 32 stops in a losing cause.
The North Stars had come into the game following a narrow setback by that same score Saturday night.
Ted Davis' second goal of the game 12:15 into overtime lifted the Ice Dogs to victory in front of more than 900 fans.
A solid early forecheck by Davis forced a turnover deep in Thunder Bay's end, where he dished it to Eric Stout.
Stout then fired a pass to SIJHL MVP Jacen Bracko, who quickly notched his league-leading seventh of the playoffs just 84 seconds into the game.
North Stars' rookie forward Owen Belisle knotted it at 1-1 at 6:02 of the second when he pushed the puck ahead of a face-off win deep in the Ice Dogs' zone and chipped a backhand that found its way through Pavlisin.
The visitors took the lead moments later when Justin Muir passed the puck up to Thrower, who was allowed to skate in over the blueline, cut to centre ice, and fire a shot over the blocker of Pavlisin to make it 2-1.
But with time running out, Davis darted out of the corner and drove to the net, where he made a couple of solid moves before stuffing the equalizer past the outstretched pad of Bodnar at 17:09.
The two sides traded scoring chances in the extra frame until an inopportune pinch by a North Stars' defender allowed Dryden to breakout on a 2-on-1, in which Stout's crisp pass found Davis, who calmly wired the game-winner high over a sprawled Bodnar to lift them to victory.
Pavlisin made 37 saves in earning the win while Bodnar turned aside 39 shots in taking the loss.
Game 4 goes Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Thunder Bay, with Game 5 set for this Friday at 7:30 p.m. back in Dryden.
Game 6, if necessary, will be held Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort William Gardens.
If the series goes the distance, Game 7 is set for on Monday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Dryden's Memorial Arena.