By James Brohm
Sioux Lookout, ON – Last year’s Bill Salonen Cup finalist Thunder Bay North Stars paid a visit to the Hangar on SIJHL opening weekend. It was a physical game with plenty of great hockey to the delight of the 486 hockey fans who packed the Hanger.
The excitement of a brand-new season had both teams come out with some pep in their step. The first period was fast paced, back and forth frame with the Bombers and North Stars trading chances at both ends of the ice. Returning Bomber, Blake Burke took a slashing penalty in a scrum in front of the Thunder Bay net at 17:27. EJ Paddington would capitalize on the ensuing power play and give the visiting team a 1-0 lead with less than 3 minutes to go in the period. The teams would retire to the dressing rooms with the North Stars still up by one.
Coming back to the second period, the momentum shifted in favour of the home team. At 12:19 of the period just after successful penalty kill for the North Stars, Bombers’ defenceman Dayvan Bull would bring the puck below the North Stars’ goal line and find Jonah Smith in front who would launch the puck into the net behind North Stars goaltender, Keenan Marks for the Bombers’ first goal of the 2023-24 campaign.
The third period saw the home team buzzing, fuel by the chants of the crowd that filled the Hangar. The North Stars had trouble getting out of their zone for long stretches. When they did, Bombers goaltender Matthew Spencer-Dahl was up to the task each and every time. At 15:45 Jonah Smith would fire a rocket up and over the shoulder of Keenan Marks for his second of the game. The Bombers fought off the North Stars attack for remaining four minutes. After having two goals called back in the game, newcomer Owen Cotter potted an empty netter in the dying seconds to secure the win for the home team.
Matthew Spencer-Dahl was solid in net and absolutely locked in for the third period to give his team a chance to complete the comeback. He stopped 37 of 38 shots and was awarded the game’s second star. Keenan Marks on the other end picked up right where he left off last season, a solid night for him only giving up two goals and earned third star honours. Jonah Smith was the game’s first star with the Bombers’ first and second goals of the season, including the game winner.
The teams will have a rematch on Saturday back at the Hangar for game two of the weekend series.