By Bryan Smeltzer
Oliver Paipoonge, ON – It was a special night at NorWest Arena as a large crowd of over 750 witnessed a spirited, back-and-forth contest between Kam River and Wisconsin. The home town Walleye wore special jerseys, in honour of breast cancer awareness, that are to be auctioned off in support of the Linda Buchan Centre, a breast-screening and assessment program located in the city of Thunder Bay.
After a touching pre-game ceremony, it was the Lumberjacks that came out of the gates with jump, out-shooting the Fish by a 9-6 margin in the first. Wisconsin were finally rewarded for their efforts late in the period, when Salvatore Poggiali converted a Ryder McMillen pass for his 12th goal of the season to make the score 1-0 Jacks.
The Fighting Walleye regrouped in the middle frame and turned the momentum in their favour. First to get on the board for the home side was Jack Cook, who ripped his 5th goal of the campaign from the blueline to even the score at 1. Just two minutes later, rookie defenseman Max Buffone followed Cook’s lead by scoring on a hard shot from the point and the Walleye had their first lead of the game. The score was 3-1 heading to the second intermission after Euan Morrison banged in a loose puck following some hard work by the line of Morrison, Ethan Lang, and Carson Gorst. The trio would combine for 8 points on the night.
The resilient Wisconsin team wouldn’t go down without a fight. First, Dillon Phillips scored a powerplay goal 4 minutes into the 3rd period to close the Walleye lead to 1 goal. After a Carson Gorst tally, his 5th of the season, made it 4-2 Kam River, league-leading scorer Ryder McMillen scored on a beautiful passing play with Connor McClure to close the gap to 4-3. With the seconds winding down in regulation, the Lumberjacks swarmed the Walleye net and were rewarded when Zach Carson banged home the equalizer with 90 seconds left on the clock.
The 3-on-3 overtime period started ominously for the Fighting Walleye, with an early Ryan Doucette tripping call forcing the team to go into protect mode for the majority of the extra frame. The home side managed to kill the penalty off and send the game into a shootout.
Ryder McMillen and Jeremy Dunmore traded first-round shootout goals, and after Eric Vanska stymied two-straight Wisconsin shooters, standout defenseman Jack Cook had the opportunity to win it for the Walleye. The 19-year-old made no mistake, ripping a hard wrist shot past Wisconsin netminder Keegan Strong to send the crowd into a frenzy and earn the Fighting Walleye the extra point.
Walleye goalie Eric Vanska earned his league-leading 11th win of the season, stopping 31 of 35 shots.
The Fighting Walleye host the Sioux Lookout Bombers at NorWest Arena next weekend, November 25th and 26th. The Wisconsin Lumberjacks play their third game in as many nights when they visit the North Stars on Sunday, and their next home stand takes place when they host the Fort Frances Lakers on December 2nd and 3rd.
G and G Excavating 3 Stars
3rd Star – Euan Morrison KRW
2nd Star – Ryder McMillen WIS
1st Star – Jack Cook KRW