By Gary Moskalyk
It is playoffs time in the SIJHL things are getting started with 3 series and we took a look at all below.
RLM at TBN
Red Lake: 22-25-5 .471 5th, GF 168 GA 188 -20, PIMs 16.8/G, PP 12.6 PK 79.1, Streak 1L, P10 4-5-1, head to head vs Thunder Bay 1-4-2
Last year’s SIJHL champion Red Lake Miners take on the previous league champion (2019) Thunder Bay North Stars. Red Lake was as high as second place through week 12 and had a .571 (11-8-2) winning percentage through week 9.
Injuries depleted the roster over the course of the campaign. More recently, Brennan Blatz hasn’t played since March 10th, and Austin Derzaph was injured on January 27th.
The Miners allowed 3.62 goals per game, nearly bang on the league average 3.63.
“We’ve got a really good puck-moving d-corps that can get up and down the ice pretty well. We’re pretty feisty around our own net, play with an edge around our own net. We play hard despite their size. That’s been a plus for us all year,” said rookie head coach Kevin Walker, who took over from Geoff Walker, who now coaches with Kam River.
Jacob Lamoureux scored 35 goals to lead the league in goals by six. Colton Crysler was second on the Miners in production with 45 points and 20 goals. Aiden Corbett (15-26-41) and defenceman Dayvan Bull (6-26-32) round out the top-40 point producers for the Miners.
Matthew MacPherson had 30 points in 38 games.
Perhaps Red Lake’s greatest strength is in net. Jack Osmond posted a 16-13-2 regular season record and a 3.04 goals against. His .924 save percentage is outstanding. Mid-season pick-up Trent Boryszczuk has been solid as his .913 SV% would attest.
“I think they’ve both done a good job respectively. I generally think we have the best tandem in the league,” said Walker. “Both these guys are extremely high competitors. They show up at the rink every day, willing and wanting to get better. I think they give us a big advantage in the pipes.”
Red Lake’s powerplay dipped to a league low 12.6%. Despite the inconsistency, Walker’s hoping to find it when it counts the most.
“We’ve proven we can beat anybody on any given night. It’s a matter of finding a little bit of chemistry. I think once we do that I think we’re going to hit our stride during playoff time. At the end of the day if we want to be champions we’re going to have to beat anybody in the league.
“I’d like to think we’re on the right foot on the road. Come back here at home, get things going here and set the tone for the rest of the series.”
“We’re excited to get rolling here,” Walker added.
Thunder Bay: 27-20-4 .569 4th, GF 179 GA 159 +20, PIMs 19.0/G, PP 17.5 PK 83.6, Streak 1L, P10 7-3-0, head to head vs Red Lake 6-1-0
Thunder Bay finished with 179 goals for.
“Did it work out the way we wanted it? No. But, I think we’ve started scoring a little more in the last 10 games,” said Stars head coach Rob DeGagne. “I like where we are offensively. The last 10 games we’ve scored some goals, we’ve played some good defense.”
The Stars are 7-3-0 in their last 10, tied with Dryden for league-best in that span.
Nikolas Campbell, Colby Feist and Jamie Fuchs had a lot to do with the upswing. Feist accounted for 36 points in 34 games. Campbell and Fuchs have 25 games under their belts. Campbell notched 17 goals and 35 points. Fuchs had 13 goals and 18 helpers.
Edison Weeks has been producing all season long. Weeks finished 5th in league scoring with 24 goals and 30 helpers. Matt Halushak had an 11-goal, 22-assist season from his blue-line post.
“I like our defence,” continued DeGagne. “We’re healthy. We’ve got a mixture of some veterans and some young guys. We’ve got quite a few good puck-moving defencemen. They can all skate and move the puck. Defensively I think that’s a strength of our team. We didn’t give up a lot of goals this year. Defensively, I think that’s where we’re going to win it.”
Keenan Marks has played the lions’ share of games between the pipes recently.
“Conner’s back now (Lemieux), he should be good to go. Marks did a great job for us while Conner was away. He still might get some starts here in the playoffs. Our goaltending, if it’s good, will take us a long ways.”
Lemieux was 13-9-3 on the season with a 2.78 GAA and .927 SV%. Marks took over after Lemieux’ lower body injury, posting a 14-7-1 mark with 2.94 GAA and .916 SV%. Marks ended up playing three more minutes in net than Lemieux did.
“I think we’re good defensively, offensively we’re going to be fine, so as long as our goaltending can be fine it gives as good a chance as anybody else.”
It took Thunder Bay 19 weeks into the season to finally catch the Miners in the standings.
“Red Lake is a pretty fast skating team. They move the puck well. They’re well coached,” offered DeGagne. “I think they play better on big ice surfaces. They’ve got (Jacob) Lamoureux (35 goals). Very consistent. They’re sneaky good.”
Thunder Bay’s last game was March 11. Three canceled games cost them a shot at catching Sioux Lookout for third.
“I like where we are now right now. We’ve had some rest. We’ve had some time to heal. As long as our goaltending is good, and I think it will be. I think Conner’s ready.”
The Stars lost William Demkiw for the whole season, and Zach Davis played a period-and-a-half after a shoulder injury and then tore his patella tendon (knee) to wipe out his season.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all year.”
DeGagne feels the Bill Salonen Cup is wide open.
“It’s a playoff that a lot of teams can win. Right from the bottom to the top there’s not a lot of difference between the top and bottom,” he said. “Kam River had a great regular season, but I think there’s a lot of parity in the league. Dryden will be a hard out, Sioux Lookout for their first year has done a great job. I think Wisconsin is sneaky good too. They’ve got a really high-powered offence. Red Lake has a good skating team. We have a lot of depth. Good offensively, defensively, goaltending. Anybody can win. It should be a lot of fun.”
WIS at SLB
Wisconsin: 18-28-6 .404 6th, GF 196 GA 224 -28, PIMs 15.6/G, PP 19.7 PK 78.2, Streak 3W, P10 5-5-0, head to head vs Sioux Lookout 2-7-0
Wisconsin was 0-7 against the Bombers until they swept Sioux Lookout March 10 and 11 to serve notice. The Lumberjacks won their last three games of the regular season.
“I think the abilities of our forwards offensively speak for themselves. We’re as deep offensively as anybody in this league,” said Wisconsin head coach Doug Lein. “The ability to score has not been an issue.”
Ryder McMillen led the SIJHL with 71 points in 46 games, 13 points clear of teammate Zach Carson and Kam River’s Jeremy Dunmore. McMillen’s 29 goals was second to Jacob Lamoureux’ 35, and McMillen’s 42 assists led Dunmore by three. Carson’s 13 powerplay goals paced the SI. He’s as a defenceman, incidentally. Salvatore Poggiali and Dillon Phillips had identical point totals–45–with 16 goals and 29 assists each.
Connor McClure logged 33 points and defenceman Dylan Jouppi had three goals but also 28 assists to sneak into the top-40 at 40th. Connor’s twin brother Cooper joined the team with 20 games left and recorded 20 points. Simon Davidson had 11 points in 14 games.
“We have six defencemen who I like that I’d put up against anybody,” said Lein.
The team has enjoyed more success recently stopping goals against.
“We struggled in the first half in our d-zone. Since Christmas we really made the changes we needed to make,” said Lein. “The boys bought in and started to grasp the system. Second half of the season was a world of difference defensively.”
Wisconsin used multiple goalies throughout the year, but Kyler Lowden ended up 2,203 minutes, good for second in the league. Lowden finished with a 15-17-5 log and 3.87 GAA.
“He’s playing number one hockey at the right time of the year,” said Lein of Lowden. “I think some of the losses he takes early in the season are not necessarily on him. . . We’re in this together. We’re going to ride him, and ride the hot hockey he’s been playing.”
Lein spoke to the 7-3 and 5-3 wins against the Bombers late in the season.
“Huge. I don’t think you can overstate how big those games were. If we go into the playoffs not having beat them in the regular season that’s a pretty big weight on the shoulders of that locker room. Sioux Lookout battled for 120 minutes. No different than them beating us seven other times. After we got the monkey off our back it’s a whole new ballgame now.”
The Lumberjacks were 3-14 in one-goal games.
“Everybody wants to forget the past. I’m a huge believer in the past is what makes you what you are now,” said Lein. “It prepares you better for what you’re going to face in the future. There isn’t a team in the league who can say they’re better prepared for playoff hockey, which should be tight games and one-goal situations, than we are.
“I’m pretty good with that learning lesson and curve over the course of 54 games,” he continued “Take that mentality and experience and put it in your back pocket for the playoffs. Those are games against Kam River. Games against Sioux Lookout. Games against Thunder Bay. Games against Dryden. Those were games against teams we’re looking up to in the standings going into the playoffs.”
The Lumberjacks are injury-free entering the postseason.
Lein offered his scouting report on the Bombers.
“They work hard. They work extremely hard. You know you have to battle for 60 minutes if you want a win against them. Well coached, their building is tough to play in. So is ours. (Jake) Manners is a good goalie. His numbers speak for themselves.
“I think this series will be the best series in the first round. It’ll be a dogfight.”
Sioux Lookout: 29-20-3 .587 3rd, GF 189 GA 156 +33, PIMs 20.4/G, PP 18.0 PK 79.4, Streak 1W, P10 5-4-1, head to head vs Wisconsin 7-2-0
Carson Johnstone’s Bomber squad took a 7-0-0 record to Wisconsin on March 10 and 11 and took two on the chin, 5-3 and 7-3.
“We have t take (the series) very seriously. They’re a skilled hockey team. When you give them space to shoot the puck, if you give them powerplays they can hurt you for sure,” said Johnstone. “We have to stay disciplined and obviously play our ‘A’ game, because every team in our league is a good hockey team. We have to remember that.”
Sioux Lookout averaged 4.39 goals per game through 14 weeks before settling for 3.63 GPG at season’s end–exactly the league average.
“Early on in the year we thrived a lot on our individual skill, because we do have a lot of skill. As the season goes on every other team kind of gets privy to what you’ve got going on,” said Johnstone. “Throughout the year obviously we found it more difficult to score goals so we had to go to dirtier areas and stuff like that. We’ve done a pretty good job at adjusting. We’ve been learning to score goals in tighter games and getting in tougher spots. That’s what you have to do in the playoffs.”
Ty Bahm finished fourth in league scoring (20-35-55) to pace the team. Blake Burke (25-23-48), Lucas Trimarchi (16-27-43) and Connor Burke (16-25-41) were top-20 material. Owen Riffel, lost for the season, had 18 goals and 36 points in 34 games. Tegan Neuman is back from injury and recorded 32 points in 30 games.
“Our d-corps is pretty strong. We have a couple of older guys back there, a couple of 19-year-olds who have learned a lot. We traded for Callum McGill at the deadline, an older guy who’s had experience in this league,” said Johnstone.
Jake Manners will receive a few votes as goaltender-of-the-year. He led the league in minutes played with 2,274 and save percentage, .931. Kam River’s Jack Orchard nipped him by 0.01 goal against, 2.34 to 2.35, to take the goals against category.
“He’s a special goaltender, honestly. It’s kind of wild how we got him. He was released from Dryden. He kind of fell into our lap at the beginning of the year,” said Johnstone. Dryden went with Eric Clark and Zac MacDonald. “He’s an x-factor. That guy can win a game alone for you. The fact that that guy is in our net every night gives our guys confidence to play in front of him. He’s huge, and he
doesn’t mind pressure.”
Besides Riffel, Ty Lone is out for a month with a broken wrist.
“I can just thanks to everyone in the league for their support this year and supporting these young men playing junior hockey,” said Johnstone. “Thanks to everybody for an awesome year and keep coming out and supporting these guys in playoffs because it’s awesome when the building is full and these guys are competing while they watch.”
FFL at DRY
Fort Frances: 9-41-1 .186 7th, GF 134 GA 301 -167, PIMs 17.5/G, PP 17.9 PK 68.1, Streak 7L1T, P10 2-7-1 head to head vs Dryden 1-8-0
Fort Frances enters the playoffs winless in eight, with nine regular seasons wins, and one win against Dryden in nine meetings. The Lakers however, are making strides towards respectability. Under new head coach Tyler Miller the team is looking to put a positive spin on a tough season with a good showing against the Dogs.
“We’re not going into the playoffs healthy, that’s for sure,” said Miller. “There’s a little bug going around, guys are banged up.” Defenceman Josh Greene has been lost for a couple of months. He ripped his MCL.
But there’s another side to the story as well.
Ryker Watt led the team in scoring with 24 goals, 19 assists and 43 points. Kevin Bond (16-16-32) and Brady Krentz (11-20-31 in 38 games) were in the top-40. Trever Sanderson (9-21-30), Clark Scaddan (11-17-28), Dylan Wedward (16-10-26) and Brady Wicklund (4-18-22) round out the offense.
“Guys have stepped up for us in the second half,” noted Miller.
There’s no doubt that Fort Frances is in tough against Dryden.
“We’re playing an underdog role. That’s what we’re looking to do,” acknowledged Miller. The play of goalie Brenden Stroble has been a definite bright spot.
“Strobe’s our number one goalie. I think he’s MVP for the league as a goalie,” said Miller of his 20-year-old netminder. “Knowing we’re the youngest team in the league and how many shots he sees a night. I don’t think there’s a better goalie in the league than him. He has the mental capability to come in every night. He’s doing cartwheels out there to keep the puck out.
“He’s a kid who is in the gym Monday to Sunday,” Miller added. “You don’t find a kid like that too often. Leadership, shows what you have to do night in, night out. He never quits, never gives up. To me those are MVP qualities.”
Fort’s playoff fortunes sit squarely on the shoulders of Stroble. Back-up Ryan Tanner is out for the year.
The Lakers didn’t reach Miller’s goal of double-digit wins.
“In the second half here we’ve had a lot more 3-2 games, 4-3 games, 6-4 games. . . ,” said Miller. Of course, from here the goal is to turn those tight losses into tight wins.
Miller’s looking forward to playing Dryden.
“Dryden’s a great team. They’re coached well, they play their system well, they’re aggressive on the puck. They cause a lot of turnovers,” he said. “They’re a well-oiled machine over there. We’re excited to play them. See what we can do. For ourselves, sneak one in, sneak another one in, see what happens. We’re going to compete.
“Our scoring is up, our goals against is down. As a staff we’re looking forward to next year.”
Miller and assistant coach Brandon Bodnar has been joined by Luke Judsen and Cody Mosbeck.
“We’re looking forward to next year with the coaching staff we have.”
The Lakers have 16 players coming back, losing four 20-year-olds.
Dryden: 37-15-1 .708 2nd, GF 229 GA 149 +80, PIMs 29.0/G, PP 26.7 PK 86.9, Streak 2W, P10 7-3-0, head to head vs Fort Frances 8-1-0
The Dryden Ice Dogs had a very good regular season.
“We had the best PK percentage, the best powerplay percentage, scored more goals, we had more shorthanded goals,” said head coach Kurt Walsten. “All that stuff, when the playoffs start, means absolutely nothing. We had a good regular season stats wise. Yeah, we’re a pretty solid team. We don’t have one leading scorer who we rely on. We can roll four lines at you. We’re the biggest team in the league, we can skate.
“But everything we’ve done up until now means nothing. Now we’re going to see where the character and the heart is.”
The Ice Dogs iced nine players in the top-40.
Brady Frattinger and Landen Stromme had 51 points each with 28 and 24 goals respectively. Bryce Benfield (20-26-46) and James Hooton (27-19-46) gives them two more 20-goal scorers. Ben Hackl averaged a point-a-game with 41 in 41 games. Ryland Maier (14-21-35), Jordan Pfoh (17-17-34) and Max Roby (18-15-33 in 31 games) provide more weaponry.
Defenceman Easton Debray kicked in 32 points with nine goals. And there’s toughness, too. Nine of the top 18 penalty minute leaders were Ice Dogs.
“We do like our leaderships core–Brady Frattinger, Ben Hackl, Jordan Pfoh. Hackl and Pfoh, they played in the Centennial Cup last year,” said Walsten. “Brady’s our captain. He battles hard. Max Rath–they’re good leaders in the room. Other guys stepped up. Stromme’s a rookie, tied with Frats with most points on the team. Benfield, Hooton, they’re point-a-game guys. Max Roby, we picked him up later in the year. He’s over a point-a-game for us.”
“You can single out one line with us. We have good depth here this year,” Walsten added.
Despite the statistical advantage, Walsten is not assuming anything.
“We’re sure not taking Fort lightly. Fort’s a good team. They work hard, they’re in every game. They have really good goaltending,” he said. “You just think you’re going to just show up and beat them, it’s not going to happen. You gotta put the work in. If we work as hard as Fort, we’ll beat them. If they outwork us, do the little things and we’re looking at what we did in the regular season, they could upset us. We’re not taking Fort lightly.
“We’re 12 victories away from winning a championship, or, in any series, four losses away from going home,” he added.
“I hope all the series are good. I hope the fans come out and watch. . . I hope the hockey’s good. The league’s been pretty competitive. . . Everyone right now thinks they’re going to win. Every coach is telling their team they’re going to win this series. Time will tell.”