An inability to finish strong could cost the Borderland Thunder against a pack of hungry Wolves here this weekend.
“We don’t have that killer instinct,” Thunder head coach Dave Allison said about his SIJHL-leading squad, coming off a 5-3 loss to the Dryden Ice Dogs here last night, as they prepare to host the second-place Fort William First Nation Wolves this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice for Kids Arena.
“The one time we’ve made a concentrated effort for 60 minutes, where we worked hard to drive to the net, was the second game after Christmas against the [Thunder Bay KC] Bulldogs,” he noted.
“It’s tough to do, but the rewards are there,” Allison added. “We try to get too cute at times. At some point, it’s going to come back to haunt you.”
Motivation would seem to be an obstacle at this point of the season for the Thunder (22-7-4-1), who hold a six-point lead over the Wolves (17-14-4-4) with five games in hand.
Regardless of their regular-season or playoff performance, the Thunder also know they have a guaranteed berth in the Dudley Hewitt Cup provincial Junior ‘A’ hockey championship as host of the April 22-26 event.
But Allison dismisses the notion his team is content with its lot in life because it can see its future.
“It’s just the mentality you’ve got to have that you want to not only score, but drive the puck through the net,” said Allison. “Of all the goals you see in the NHL, most of them are guys driving the net and paying the price.”
He believes the Wolves, who lead the third-place Bulldogs (18-13-3-1) by two points, have become an even more potent threat with its moves prior to the Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League signing deadline of Jan. 10.
“They’ve always been a high-scoring team and now they’ve improved their defence with [Trevor] Abraham [signed from the Bulldogs] and another kid from Selkirk [Evan Debert].”
The Thunder are going into the weekend on a down note after losing their second-straight game—a 5-3 defeat here last night at the hands of the fourth-place Ice Dogs (21-12-2-1), who with 36 points are 17 ahead of the fifth-place Feathermen Hawks (8-24-1-4).
Josh McAndrew completed a three-way passing play involving Chad Baldwin and Kyle Prystupa at 6:14 of the first period to put the Thunder in front. But the Ice Dogs proceeded to score five unanswered goals, including four in the second period.
Steve Bunney paced the Dryden attack with a hat trick, while Matt Tryhuba and Kendal Enns struck for singles.
Aaron Grynol, playing his first game in a Thunder uniform after missing the first 33 games of the season with a rotator cuff injury, gave the home squad and a near-capacity crowd a spark with his first of the year at 19:04 of the middle period.
Jay Phillips made good on Chris Shaen’s second assist of the night with a tally at 8:08 of the third, but Dryden goalie Ryan Comeau bolted the door shut from there—despite the Ice Dogs being outshot 13-6 in the period.
This past weekend, the Northwest Wisconsin Knights (5-10) gave the Thunder all they could handle—splitting a pair of contest at the Knights’ home rink.
On Friday night, the Thunder earned a 4-2 victory on goals by Ryan Sinclair, ‘Critter’ Nagurski, Baldwin, and Phillips. Jeff Coopman notched a pair for the Knights, who play only a partial SIJHL schedule while also competing in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.
But the Knights were determined to gain their first win of the season against the Thunder the following evening, and did so on the strength of a 3-2 win.
“Wisconsin played with a great deal of passion,” said Allison. “It was like it was their Stanley Cup. Our team has to get used to teams coming after us because we’re in first place.”
Trevor Thomas, Jake Smith, and Mike Polini all scored in the second period for the Knights. McAndrew and A.J. Tucker replied for the Thunder.
In related news, SIJHL president Jerry Blazino confirmed yesterday that Allison will be the head coach of the Western Division squad at next Wednesday’s all-star game at the Fort William Gardens (Thunder Bay).
Allison earned the honour based on the Thunder having the best record at this point of the season ahead of its Western Division counterparts from Dryden and Northwest Wisconsin.
Blazino also announced each all-star team will be made up of about 18 players, with each team sending three forwards, two defenceman, and a goalie to the event.
The rosters will consist of the starting lineups determined by fan balloting (which wraps up today at Tagg’s Source for Sports), with the rest of the team filled out by each all-star team’s coaching staff.