THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Semifinal action in the Superior International Junior Hockey League begins tonight at Dryden’s Memorial Arena as the hometown GM Ice Dogs welcome the Fort Frances Lakers in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series at 7:30 p.m. CT.
Here’s a look at the match-up.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: After dropping their first meeting of the season in a shootout to the Lakers, Dryden reeled off 10 straight victories over Fort Frances to take the season set between the two long-time rivals.
In all though, five of those contests required extra time to decide the outcome however with three being taken in overtime while two went to a shootout.
Of note, seven of the 11 meetings ended up being one-goal games.
THE SEASON: The GM Ice Dogs finished first overall in the SIJHL standings for a second straight year ending up with a 40-8-6-2 record to earn the No. 1 seed in the postseason.
The Lakers meanwhile ended up fifth in the league after going 15-32-3-6 in 2017-18.
They did however knock off the No. 4 seeded English River Miners in quarter-final action taking that best-of-five affair 3-1 to earn their latest meeting with Dryden.
LAST TIME: The two clubs last met in last year’s semifinals with the GM Ice Dogs sweeping the Lakers in four straight enroute to winning the league championship.
This marks the fourth consecutive year the two clubs will meet in playoff competition.
Prior to that they squared off in the 2016 and 2015 Bill Salonen Cup finals with the Lakers coming away victorious 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 2005 semifinal play.
An original member of the SIJHL, Dryden has won three league titles in their first 16 years while Fort Frances has captured three Bill Salonen Cup crowns of their own with Borderland winning it all back in 2003.
POINT PRODUCERS: SIJHL Most Valuable Player Jacen Bracko led all league players in offensive production.
In 56 games played, the 20-year-old Calgary, Alta., product topped all SIJHL skaters in both goals and points with 48 and 81 respectively.
Bracko also finished in the Top 10 in the league in assists (33), shorthanded markers (3) and game-winning goals (5) as did his nine power play tallies, 12-man advantage helpers and 21 extra man points.
Finishing second on the squad and third overall in scoring was Eric Stout.
He amassed 67 points in 52 outings with 30 goals and 37 helpers along the way.
Dryden rookie forward Evan Walls was a 50-point man in his initial campaign as he scored 24 times and helped set-up 26 others.
He had 19 goals and 26 assists along the way in 53 outings for 45 points.
SIJHL Top Defenceman award recipient Cory Dennis was second among league blueliners in offensive numbers with 46 points in 54 games. The GM Ice Dogs’ defender’s 15 goals tied him for first among D-men.
Teammate Brendan Jay added 40 points to finish third in scoring for rearguards.
Leading the Lakers in scoring was another rookie in Nick Lucas.
He had 19 goals and 26 assists along the way in 53 outings for 45 points.
Jaedin Ness was next on the squad with 42 points while Adam Withers was a point-per-game performer for Fort Frances with 40 in just 35 contests.
Charlie Wilkie and Dustin Roitelman were one-two respectively in points among Lakers’ defencemen with 17 and 16 respectively.
In the series triumph over English River, Fort Frances boasted a well-balanced attack in defeating the Miners.
In all 12 different skaters had at least one point in the series with Withers, Ness and Jack Bernie all chipping in with a club-best three points apiece.
GOALKEEPERS: Dryden boasted a solid one-two punch between the pipes in netminders Jacob Gnidziejko and Landon Pavlisin.
Gnidziejko, who had a 15-5-3-0 record, led all SIJHL netminders in goals-against average at 2.38 and was tied for second in save percentage at .918.
Pavlisin meanwhile went 14-2-1-1, with a 2.47 average and a .916 save mark.
Both goalkeepers also posted three shutouts each.
Ismael Ralsten saw the majority of time between the pipes for the Lakers down the stretch.
He wrapped up the regular season with a 6-13-2-3 record and a 3.75 GAA and .899 save mark.
Ralsten was stellar in backstopping the Lakers in the series win over English River.
In four games he allowed just six goals against to finish with a 3-1 record along with a stingy 1.45 goals-against average and a solid .954 save mark to lead all netminders in both categories.
GM ICE DOGS INFORMATION: Dryden led the SIJHL in goals scored at 272 and allowed the second fewest against at 133. … The GM Ice Dogs were a league-best 23-2-2-1 as the home team this season and were also a solid 17-6-4-1 as the visiting side. … MVP Jacen Bracko’s 48 goals led all league skaters while Eric Stout’s 30 were the third most. … His 10-man advantage markers were the second most in the league. … Stout was fifth in assists with 37. … Evan Walls tied for the SIJHL rookie lead in tallies with 24. … He was third in points among first-year players with 50. … Top Defenceman award winner Cory Dennis tied for first in D-man goals with 15 and was second in points with 46. … Teammate Brendan Jay was third in offensive numbers among league blueliners with 40 points. … When scoring first in a game Dryden was an impressive 31-1-3-1 on the year. … The GM Ice Dogs led the league in power play success at 23.7% scoring 55 times in 232 chances. … They were second in the league on the penalty kill at 83.5%. … The club’s 14 shorthanded goals led the SIJHL. … They gave up the second-fewest man-down markers at four. … When leading after one period, Dryden was tough to beat going 25-0-2-1. … They were equally as impressive when being in front after 40 minutes as their 30-1-3-1 record would indicate. … The GM Ice Dogs enter the series riding an eight-game SIJHL playoff winning streak. … The club is also 22-16 in postseason play since 2014. … Dryden is hosting the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A Championship May 1-5 at Memorial Arena.
LAKERS’ LOG: Fort Frances was fifth in both goals scored with 172 and allowed at 241. … The Lakers were just 7-15-2-4 as the home team this season and went 8-17-1-2 as the visitors. … Nick Lucas was fifth in SIJHL rookie scoring with 45 points. … He was fourth in first-year assists at 19. … Lucas also ended up tied for second in rookie power play markers with six. … Fort Frances was 12-9-1-4 when scoring first in games this season. … The club was fifth in the league while on the man advantage at 14.8% as they picked up 34 power play markers in 229 chances but gave up a league-high 13 shorthanded goals. … They were sixth however on the penalty kill at 74% as opponents connected 50 times in 192 chances. They did have seven shorthanded goals. … Fort Frances was a solid 12-2-0-3 when leading after one period of play. … When up after the second stanza the club was 15-3-0-2. … Lakers bench boss Wayne Strachan is the winningest coach in SIJHL history. … Strachan has also led Fort Frances to three Bill Salonen Cup titles. … The Lakers enter the series 3-1 in the 2018 playoffs. … In the past five years Fort Frances boasts a 31-17 postseason record and have won three Bill Salonen Cup league titles.
No. 1 Dryden GM Ice Dogs vs. No. 5 Fort Frances Lakers
Game 1: Friday, March 30 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. CT (Memorial Arena)
Game 2: Saturday, March 31 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. CT (Memorial Arena)
Game 3: Tuesday, April 3 @ Fort Frances 7:30 p.m. CT (Ice for Kids Arena)
Game 4: Thursday, April 5 @ Fort Frances 7:30 p.m. CT (Ice for Kids Arena)
Game 5*: Sunday, April 8 @ Dryden 4 p.m. CT (Memorial Arena)
Game 6*: Monday, April 9 @ Fort Frances 7:30 p.m. CT (Ice for Kids Arena)
Game 7*: Wednesday, April 11 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. CT (Memorial Arena)
*- if necessary
All SIJHL games are streamed live and on demand online at HockeyTV.com.
Photo credit: Clint Bruyere