THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The Superior International Junior Hockey League playoffs begin tonight at Dryden Memorial Arena as the hometown GM Ice Dogs host the long-time rival Fort Frances Lakers at 7:30 p.m. to commence their best-of-five affair.
The two-time defending Bill Salonen Cup champions from Dryden are in a quest for a three-peat while Fort Frances aims to get on the road for their first SIJHL title since 2016.
Either Dryden or Fort Frances has won the past five SIJHL titles.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The two sides met a total of 10 times during the course of the campaign with the GM Ice Dogs taking the season set 6-4.
Three of the meetings were decided in overtime while two more required a shootout to determine a winner.
Dryden did outscore Fort Frances by a 53-33 margin however in the 10 contests.
THEY MEET AGAIN: This marks the fifth consecutive year the two clubs will meet in playoff competition.
The GM Ice Dogs have come away victorious the last two seasons in semifinal play while prior to that they squared off in the 2016 and 2015 Bill Salonen Cup finals, with the Lakers winning on both occasions.
Fort Frances also came on top in seven exciting games in 2013 semifinal play.
Back in 2012, the Lakers swept the Ice Dogs in the semifinals while Dryden won in six games in both the 2010 and 2011 league semifinals.
Meanwhile in the early years of the SIJHL, the Ice Dogs and then Fort Frances-based Borderland Thunder squared off four years in a row from 2002 through 2005.
Dryden won the first-ever Bill Salonen Cup back in 2002 with a four-game sweep, before the Thunder did likewise in 2003.
2004 saw the Ice Dogs beat Borderland in a semifinal that went the distance while the Thunder won in four straight in the 2005 semifinals.
An original member of the SIJHL, Dryden has won four league titles in their first 17 years while Fort Frances has captured three Bill Salonen Cup crowns of their own with Borderland winning it all back in 2003.
Clubs from either Fort Frances or Dryden have won eight of the first 17 SIJHL championships.
SCORING: Leading the GM Ice Dogs offensively was their veteran forward Eric Stout.
Stout finished seventh overall in the league, supplying 77 points in 53 outings, including 40 goals giving him 99 tallies in three years in the SIJHL along with 100 assists for 199 points.
Next on the club was Cameron Coutre, who was another over a point-per-game man with 65 in 53 games on 30 goals and 35 assists.
Coutre was also awarded two of the nine penalty shots in the league in 2018-19 and scored on both opportunities to lead all skaters in that category.
Third on the squad in scoring was Jacob Siebenga, who was the only player on the team to suit up in all 56 regular season contests. He picked up 61 points on 26 tallies and 35 helpers.
Pacing the Dryden defencemen in scoring was Curtis Magas as he totalled 35 points by scoring 11 times and helping set-up 24 others.
For the Lakers, Brett Hahkala was their top point-getter with 50 as he found the back of the net on 22 occasions and doled out 28 assists.
He was followed by Nick Lucas (16g-32a-48pts) and Jaedin Ness (23g-15a-38pts).
Pacing their blueline corps was the trio of Dane Bateman, Anthony Antonelli and MacKenzie Flett as they all collected 22 points apiece.
GOALTENDERS: During the campaign, both Jordan Wilde and Jacob Anthony registered 13 wins each for the GM Ice Dogs.
Wilde posted three shutouts while Anthony had one.
As for the Lakers, Jacob Gnidziejko and Matt Booth combined for 16 wins on the year with Booth picking up a shutout.
Gnidziejko was second overall in the league in minutes played at 1,989 while facing the second-most shots against in the SIJHL at 1,319.
SPECIAL TEAMS: During the course of the campaign, Dryden finished third in the SIJHL in power play proficiency at 18.6% scoring 56 times in a league-high 301 opportunities while giving up eight man-down markers.
They were also third on the penalty kill, allowing 56 goals against in the 323 times they were down at least one man. The GM Ice Dogs did notch 12 shorthanded tallies though.
As for the Lakers, they ended up fifth overall on the man advantage at 17.6%, notching 42 markers in 239 chances, but did give up 11 shorthanded goals against.
Fort Frances was fourth overall in the SIJHL on the P.K. at 81.8% and scored five times shorthanded.
When scoring first in games, Dryden was 23-5-4-2 and Fort Frances went 11-11-1-0.
All SIJHL playoff games will be streamed live online via HockeyTV.com.
No. 4 Dryden GM Ice Dogs vs. No. 5 Fort Frances Lakers
Game 1: Tuesday, March 19 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. (Memorial Arena)
Game 2: Wednesday, March 20 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. (Memorial Arena)
Game 3: Friday, March 22 @ Fort Frances 7:30 p.m. (Ice for Kids Arena)
Game 4*: Saturday, March 23 @ Fort Frances 7:30 p.m. (Ice for Kids Arena)
Game 5*: Monday, March 25 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. (Memorial Arena)