With mid-season bragging rights on the line — not to mention first place — the Thunder Bay North Stars defeated the second-place Red Lake Miners 6-3. The win gives the Stars a seven-point lead for tops in the Superior International Junior Hockey League standings. Red Lake has a game in hand.
The rematch is tonight.
Goaltender Seth McKay picked up his sixth win for Thunder Bay against one loss, stopping 34 of 37 shots. The former junior B standout will be expected to carry the freight with regular start Jordan Smith out with an knee injury suffered Wednesday in Spooner, Wis. Smith is projected to miss possibly six weeks.
On Friday — the Canadian junior roster deadline — the Stars acquired Dylan Kosik from Fort Frances to bolster the goaltending corps. Forwards Adam Morgan and Leeam Tivers were acquired in other deadline deals.
They may see action tonight for the Stars.
The Miners arrived late to town, but opened the game firing on all cylinders. Ryan Howe went glove side on McKay to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 3:19 of the first period on a Miners power play. Ethan Stuckless doubled the margin with a high backhander at 12:30.
“We started really slow,” said North Stars head coach Rob DeGagne. “That’s as slow as I’ve seen us start. The game didn’t have a lot of flow to it, I didn’t think. There were a lot of penalties both sides. I think we took eight, maybe they took 10. I think we finally woke up and said ‘We got to get going.’ It was good thing, because they had some pressure on us early. We couldn’t even move. And then all of a sudden we got one and got our feet moving.”
Thunder Bay replied quickly and often.
Hunter Foreshew snapped one home from the slot at 13:14. Just 29 seconds later Jacob Brown notched his 22nd to tie it up. Joel Willan finished off the first period uprising with his 12th on the powerplay, picking up a loose puck in the crease.
Red Lake took a trio of penalties five minutes into the second. With 93 seconds left in a two-man advantage Red Lake picked up a third infraction.
Through it all Spencer Milne of Red Lake was stymied by Seth McKay on a breakaway effort during that stretch.
Alex Erwin deflected Max Fortin’s point shot to give NS a 4-2 lead at 7:35.
Milne was at it again, picked up a two-man shorthanded breakaway but McKay thwarted the effort.
Nikolas Campbell hit a wide open Bruchkowski and the North Star sniper went five-hole to give Thunder Bay a 5-2 lead with 27 seconds left in the middle frame.
“We had a long day with highway closure and stuff, but I liked our start,” said first-year Miners coach Geoff Walker. “We got out to a lead and then basically gave them three goals in quick succession after that. Ran into penalty trouble. We have a hockey game to win (tonight). We can in here with the right attitude, it wasn’t meant to be tonight. Bounces didn’t go our way. . . . We have to stay out of the box.”
Thunder Bay was 3-for-12 on the powerplay, while Red Lake clicked on two of seven chances.
SIJHL leading goalie Zach Willms was pulled in the third period. Cody Levesque allowed Ben Erwin’s powerplay goal in a 17-save third period for Red Lake.
Thunder Bay’s Kyler Basaraba and Red Lake’s Dallen Bulger fought to start the third in a battle of 27’s. Noah Kwasny rounded out the game’s scoring with five minutes left in the game.
Howe, Stuckless and Shaye Sommerfield had two-point nights for Red Lake. Bruchkowski added three points for the North Stars. Campbell, Max Fortin, Foreshew, Willan and Ben Erwin chipped in with two points each.