The largest crowd of the season packed into the Ice for Kids Arena last night to watch the Borderland Thunder hang on for a 2-1 victory over the visiting Dryden Ice Dogs.
The Thunder, now unbeaten in their last 13 games, pulled to within one point of the front-running Ice Dogs (18-9-7) in the race for first place in the Superior International Junior Hockey League standings.
Kevin Webb opened the scoring in the first when he tucked the puck under Dryden goalie Ryan McGillis after a nice feed from Ian Lockman from the right face-off circle.
A power play gave the Thunder a two-goal cushion after Lockman tipped a David Lloyd point shot past McGillis with nine minutes left in the second.
The Ice Dogs battled back in the third, getting on the scoreboard when Tyler McDonald potted a backhand past Thunder goalie Rob Hrabec, who was out of position after misplaying the puck a few seconds earlier.
But the Thunder repulsed every Ice Dog rally after that to earn the narrow win.
Dryden head coach Al Trotz was unhappy with a slashing call against his captain, Brian Rankin, in the dying minutes as the ’Dogs were pressing for the tying goal.
“I wasn’t pleased with it but what can you do?” he said. “A penalty like that kills our momentum.”
Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan said setting the tone early was something they wanted to do against their rivals.
“That was one of our main focuses. We wanted to come out and take the lead,” he noted. “In the past, they’ve jumped on us early. We wanted to get on them and rely on our defence to win us the game.”
The Thunder outshot the Ice Dogs 39-26 as Hrabec, winning his third SIJHL defensive player-of-the-week honours last week, remained perfect (7-0-3) since being traded here in November.
Strachan said the line of Webb, Kyle Prystupa, and Lockman have gelled nicely over the last month. Lockman and Webb were named to the SIJHL’s all-star team while Prystupa has healed from his earlier injuries.
“I think they’re starting to come together. Ian’s a spark plug on the line when he’s moving his feet,” said Strachan. “Prystupa and Webb play well together. That line just complements each other nicely.”
The game was another in a series of close contests between the two squads. With five head-to-head matches left, Strachan said playing well against Dryden will be key in their run for first place.
“Before the game, I told the team this is one of the first six. Let’s set the tone and be the boss out there,” he said.
Thunder defenceman Ryan Hampton sat out the game with a sore shoulder.
The Thunder were coming off a 6-1 win over the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs here last Friday night. Josh Baxter led the attack with two goals while Justin Bodnarchuk, Chad Baldwin, Matt Johnson, and Ryan Hilfer added singles.
Up next for the Thunder is a trio of games against the third-place Feathermen Hawks (16-9-4), with the first one here Friday at 7:30 p.m., followed by two games at their new home arena near Kaka-beka Falls.