The Borderland Thunder’s first regular-season action in the Superior International Junior Hockey League last weekend in Thunder Bay featured a little bit of everything—from rebounding after a tough opening loss to a 13-player brawl.
After losing 6-5 to the Bulldogs on Friday, the Thunder stormed back to beat the Wolves 6-1 on Saturday and then 3-0 on Sunday.
The scoring barrage in the third period Saturday night sparked an aggressive hit on Thunder forward Tyler Barker with two minutes left in the game, which ignited the brawl, said head coach Wayne Strachan.
Things got so heated, in fact, that Borderland goalie Chris Cain and Wolves’ netminder Chris Lauzon got into the act.
All players involved were ejected and forced to sit out the rematch on Sunday afternoon, including six Thunder players. As such, affiliated players Tom Rose and Jeff Friesen saw some ice time to make up for the shortfall.
Josh Baxter, Justin Bodnarchuk, and Kevin Webb scored in Sunday’s game. Tom Iwaniec earned the shutout. Webb (two), Ian Lockman, Adam Sus, Jay Phillips, and Matt Johnson had tallied in Saturday night’s win.
Webb, who also netted a hat trick in Friday’s loss to the Bulldogs and added two assists on the weekend, was named the first-ever SIJHL offensive player-of-the-week.
Kyle Prystupa, who tallied the Thunder’s first-ever regular season goal, and Lockman also scored in Friday’s loss.
Strachan was happy with how his team responded, especially after digging themselves in a deep hole to the Bulldogs.
“I don’t know what it was. The boys came out flat. The Bulldogs were a lot hungrier. They were pumped to play their first home game and took advantage of our lackluster play,” he said.
Strachan added the Bulldogs were a much improved team from the squad he watch go 0-3 at the “showcase” pre-season tournament last month.
“On Saturday, we addressed our problem of falling behind and having to catch up in the third period,” he noted. “We talked about our focus and getting ready to play.
“From there the boys came out and showed how they wanted to play.”
Strachan did notice some tightness in his team’s play on Friday. For many, the weekend was their taste of league play at the junior ‘A’ level.
“I think a lot of guys right now still don’t understand what junior is all about,” he remarked. “How every night they’re going to have to come out and play. They found that out.”
Despite some lapses, Strachan said he was happy with how well the lines have been coming together.
“For the most part, we pretty much went with the same lines. I think our conditioning is good,” he noted. “We got tired mentally as the third game went on but they did well, and that’s something they’re going to have to get used to this season.”
The Thunder will hit the ice in the Lakehead again this weekend. They’ll face the Bulldogs for two games starting Friday at the Fort William Gardens before visiting the Featherman Hawks for a Sunday afternoon contest.
Their home opener is Oct. 12 against the Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m.