Bulldogs, critters, and bears, oh my.
It wasn’t quite an animal house at the Ice for Kids Arena, but the assorted creatures on hand at the Ice for Kids Arena on Saturday night witnessed the Borderland Thunder shoot their way to a 7-3 win against the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs.
The two teams had battled to a 1-1 tie on Friday night.
The Thunder (16-4-4-1) now have lost only once in their last seven games as they maintained a three-point lead over the second-place Fort William Wolves for top spot in the SIJHL (with six games in hand).
“I think we continued on from what we were doing Friday night,” said Thunder head coach Dave Allison, who watched his team fire 85 shots at the Bulldogs’ net in the two games.
“The guys played well both games,” he noted. “I think the communication was even better tonight. There was a lot of synergy in terms of guys helping each other out.”
A trio of new faces acquired over the past week also made favourable first impressions to help the Thunder overcome the third-place Bulldogs (13-10-2-1), who are seven points behind Borderland.
“Critter” Nagurski, picked up from the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, lasted only 7:20 of his debut Friday night before being ejected for fighting with the Bulldogs’ Jesse Smith.
But the grandson of former NFL great Bronco Nagurski stuck around the entire game Saturday, contributing a goal and an assist—and proved almost immovable to the Bulldogs’ defence when he possessed the puck.
Meanwhile, Ryan Sinclair, who came over from the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, had two assists Saturday night while defenceman John Kocis, brought in for future considerations from the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, was steady on the Thunder blueline in both games.
“All our guys impressed us this evening,” said Allison. “Having the new guys in has produced some positive competition for the guys who are already here.
“I think we’re playing than we did at the beginning of the year [during a 10-game undefeated streak],” he added. “The players have more respect towards the game and each other.”
Friday night’s game was a goaltending duel between Thunder starter Jamie Munro, who played both games last weekend with No. 1 Dan Hoehne reduced to the backup role because of severe headaches, and former Borderland goalie Kyle Rogers.
The Thunder tested their old teammate early and often, finally breaking through at 7:12 of the second period when Matt Alexander notched his fifth of the season to open the scoring.
Trevor Karasiewicz, tied with teammate Rylan Vesa for fourth place in the SIJHL scoring race with 42 points going into play last weekend, then struck at 9:33 to even the contest.
From there, it was Rogers’ time to shine as he held his team in despite the Bulldogs being outshot 15-6 in the third period and 43-24 overall.
“Our guys played hard after two weeks off,” said Allison, whose team last saw action Nov. 30 against the Bulldogs in Thunder Bay.
“They got stronger as the game went one. That’s all you can ask for,” he added.
It also was fitting that a player named “Critter” would touch off the stuffed animal barrage on Saturday night.
The Thunder’s second-annual “Teddy Bear Toss” saw spectators hurl their furry friends onto the ice after the first Borderland goal of the game, which went to the Salvation Army and Couchiching Christmas hampers.
Nagurski didn’t keep the fans in suspense for long as he finished off a three-way passing play involving A.J. Tucker and Matt Johnson for his first SIJHL goal at 1:29 of the first period.
Vesa’s diving stab at a loose puck on a Bulldogs’ power-play tied it at 8:11, but the Thunder retook the lead at 14:05 on Tucker’s first of two on the night.
Ian Lockman didn’t take long into the second period to make it 3-1, netting his sixth of the year at the 26-second mark.
Exactly three minutes later, Josh Baxter moved in on the left wing and got all of a 25-footer from the top of the face-off circle that beat Rogers to the glove side for his sixth of the campaign.
Karasiewicz sandwiched two breakaway goals around Kyle Prystupa’s team-leading 14th for the Thunder to make it 5-3. But Josh McAndrew stifled the Bulldogs’ comeback as he jammed a rebound of his wraparound attempt past Rogers at 18:56.
Sinclair made a pinpoint feed to Tucker in front for his second of the game, and 11th of the season, to cap the scoring at 1:02 of the third as the Thunder piled up a 42-14 advantage on the shot clock.
The Thunder will meet an old acquaintance in forward Justin Bodnarchuk when they head to Dryden tonight to face the defending SIJHL champion Ice Dogs (15-7-2-1), who sit in fourth place 12 points behind Borderland.
Bodnarchuk—third in scoring for Borderland last season—played just two games with the Thunder this season before being part of a Sept. 22 trade to the Feathermen Hawks, which never ended up being completed.
He eventually was released to pursue other hockey options and signed with the Ice Dogs last week before debuting against Fort William on the weekend.
The Thunder close their pre-Christmas schedule with games this Friday and Saturday against the fifth-place Feathermen Hawks (8-18-1-3) in Thunder Bay.
Their next home games are Jan. 3-4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice for Kids Arena, when the Bulldogs make a return visit.