By Mike Ebbeling
Dryden, ON – It promised to be a classic and so far, Thunder Bay and Dryden GM aren’t disappointing as the SIJHL Semi-Final is headed back to the Lakehead tied 1-1.
The intensity wasn’t as high to start Game #2 as it was less than 24 hours earlier. It was a feeling out process to begin with Thunder Bay goalie Keenan Marks the busier of the two. The North Stars would get the first big opportunity as Landon Stromme got the stick high on Mason Wesley off a neutral zone faceoff and after deliberation was assessed a 4 minute penalty. However, the visitors could muster little offence and took a minor of their own midway through as the Number #1 penalty kill during the regular season clamped down. An Easton Debray cross-check would result in a 30 second 5-3 but again Dryden GM shutdown the attackers. The teams would trade chances 4-4 and 5-5 but Eric Clark and Marks would shut the door. It remained back and forth until a rare mistake by veteran defenceman Max Rath. Playing in only his third game of the postseason, Rath went back into his own zone to take a North Star dump-in however missed the puck leaving Colby Feist in the clear. Feist would capitalize with a burner blocker side on Clark at 12:42. Because no Ice Dog touched the puck assists were handed out to Dyland Bertrand (his first playoff point) and Dimitri Triahiotis. Despite Dryden GM out chancing Thunder Bay 13-6, the first period would end 1-0.
It was a terrible start to the second for the home team as Max Roby was handed a minor penalty on the opening faceoff as he got his stick up in the face of Nikolas Campbell. The North Stars would quickly take advantage as 57 seconds later Matthew Halushak would let one fly from just inside the blueline. The puck appeared to hit an Ice Dog defender but ended up fooling Eric Clark to make it a 2-0 game. Halushak was credited with his first playoff goal with Nikolas Campbell earning an assist. There was no panic on the Dryden GM bench as they quickly launched an offensive counter. Consecutive penalties issued against Dimitri Triahiots and Halushak resulted in a 5-3 power-play. After furious pressure around the North Stars net and chance after chance Landon Stromme finally beat a sprawling Keenan Marks to make it 2-1. Ben Hackl and Brady Frattinger, who were denied moments before, were credited with assists. Dryden GM continued to pour it on outshooting their opponent 25-11 but could not pull even heading into the break.
The third period of Game #2 would go down with one of the biggest momentum shifts in recent memory. The North Stars would once again storm out of the gate and 41 seconds in Dimitri Triahiotis was hauled down on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. With a shot to make it a two-goal game again Triahiotis could not beat Eric Clark who wasn’t fooled and stayed square to the puck making a huge save. On the ensuing faceoff Clark did it again with two unbelievable pad saves keeping it a one goal hockey game and sending the North Stars players searching to the heavens looking for an answer. The string of big saves would provide an immediate spark from an unlikely line. Ty Earl, Kaden Bandura and Ondrej Bardos were summoned, and they responded in a major way. A hard skating and persistent Bardos forced a turnover in Thunder Bay territory and stepping behind to clean up was Bandura who fooled Keenan Marks glove side to make it a 2-2 game. About 3 minutes later and with Matthew Halushak in the box for a fourth time the lethal Ice Dogs power-play went back to work. Landon Stromme cleanly won an offensive zone faceoff back to Jordan Pfoh. The forward-turned- defeceman patiently waited for James Hooton to get open on the far wing where the fired home his fourth of the playoffs and give Dryden GM their first lead. The North Stars would recover as they mounted numerous opportunities of their own. It once again came down to the final couple of minutes. With 2:04 to play in regulation Rob Degagne once again gambled by pulling Marks for the extra attacker. Consecutive faceoff wins and quality shots coupled with Ice Dogs icing calls kept fans on the edge of their seats hoping to avoid witnessing another late comeback goal. It reached a boiling point with 1:38 to play as Colby Feist got open at the side of the crease. Feist and North Stars fans thought they had tied the game for a second straight day but Clark provided the 453 fans in attendance with an Easter miracle as he stretched across the net, doing the splits and absolutely robbed Feist of his second goal of the game. Dryden GM finally worked the puck into the neutral zone thanks to good hustle from Ryland Maier. That allowed Garrett Hrechka to cross the centre line and back hand the puck past Halushak and into the empty net for the cliching goal. Dryden GM would finish the game outshooting the North Stars 46-25 and even the series at one game apiece.
- Landen Stromme (DRY): 1 goal, 1 assist
- Eric Clark (DRY): 23 saves
- Sebastiano Biagi (DRY)