Christmas came early to the Borderland Thunder last night, but the mood in the locker-room afterwards was less than festive.
On a play that should have been whistled dead seconds earlier because the puck hit the netting above the glass, Matt Johnson deflected Jay Phillips’ point shot at 3:46 of the third period as the Thunder again beat the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs 3-2 here last night to grab a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven SIJHL final.
The venue now switches to the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Sunday night. If necessary, Game 5 will be played back here next Tuesday (April 8) at 7:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs were enraged after referee Mike Speliale allowed play to continue after a Thunder shoot-in brushed the mesh above the left-wing corner glass, although the official did bring the whistle to his mouth and partially raise his hand before changing his mind.
But Thunder head coach Dave Allison and his team weren’t crying any tears for the visitors’ plight after Thunder Bay’s Brian Dzijak’s third-period cross-check to the head of Kevin Webb seconds after hammering the Thunder forward with a clean check at the Borderland blueline.
“The hit on Webb should have been a five-minute major,” steamed Allison about Dzijak’s tactics at 15:46 of the third period, which led to coincidental roughing penalties for two players from each side.
“That’s the way things work out,” he added. “The officials have to do a better job of monitoring the high sticks. There’s got to be some supplementary discipline come out of this.”
The Thunder will be sending a videotape of the incident to the SIJHL in hopes the league will suspend Dzijak, whose 12 points tie him for the playoff lead with teammate Trevor Karasiewicz.
But Johnson was clear league officials may not be the only ones taking Dzijak to task. “I didn’t like it at all,” he said of the hit. “There’s got to be some retribution.”
From the league or the Thunder?
“Either one. You can’t accept a teammate getting cross-checked to the face when he’s not looking,” he stressed.
Thunder forward “Critter” Nagurski was more to the point.
“That was dirty—he’ll get paid back,” warned Nagurski, one of two Thunder players to hit the post in a scoreless first period.
Chad Baldwin broke up the goaltending duel during a Thunder power play, deflecting Chris Shaen’s point shot past Bulldogs goalie Bill Gerry at 6:09 of the second for a 1-0 Thunder lead.
Kurt Hogard, who leads all defencemen in playoff scoring with seven points, made it 2-0 at 14:10 when he pinched in from the point, taking the puck behind the net before coming out front untouched and beating Gerry to the far side.
The Bulldogs, whose frustration with their lack of scoring chances had them barking angrily at each other by the end of the first period, composed themselves during the intermission and got back in the game on Lloyd Stansell’s goal at 1:20.
After Johnson’s controversial goal, the Bulldogs desperately tried to crack Borderland’s defensive shield, but were held at bay due to the Thunder’s tight checking and goalie Dan Hoehne, who made 18 saves to help his team to its eighth-straight win.
Adam Fabiano, who picked up a 10-minute misconduct for arguing the Johnson goal, redeemed himself with his power-play goal at 19:17 of the third after the Bulldogs had pulled Gerry for a 6-on-4 advantage.
But the Thunder Bay assistant captain lost his cool at the worst possible time to seal his team’s fate. With the puck in the Thunder zone, Fabiano was penalized for high-sticking David Lloyd during a battle in front of the net with 9.6 seconds left in regulation time.
Thunder captain Josh Baxter, who returned to the line-up last night after missing the last four weeks with a knee injury, said his squad will have to be prepared for more trench warfare as they try and wrap up their first SIJHL title on the road this weekend.
“They’re a lot more physical team at home,” said Baxter. “We have to match their intensity and physical play, and we have to continue with our hard work and be willing to continue adapting to their forechecking.”