Thunder Bay, ON
March 29, 2022
Technically, the Thunder Bay North Stars are the reigning SIJHL champions, having been the last team that was awarded the Bill Salonen Cup as playoff champions.
The fact that the Cup was last presented in April of 2019 was of little consequence, as the North Stars looked like they picked right up where they left off, opening the 2022 version of the playoffs with a convincing 5-1 win over the visiting Wisconsin Lumberjacks.
The teams opened the game a little tentatively; perhaps the gravity of playing for keeps for the first time in three seasons was weighing on them. It was the North Stars that held the territorial edge and a commanding early lead in shots – at times aided by some sloppy end-zone play by the Lumberjacks – but simply could not convert on several grade-A chances in close.
The home side would finally break through with Edison Weeks finishing off a nifty play originating from the North Stars own end zone. After taking a breakout pass from defenseman Matt Halushak, Anthony Kuzenko and Dimitri Trahiotis executed a perfect give and go through the neutral zone before feeding it to Weeks who tucked it neatly behind Lumberjack’s netminder Kyler Lowden.
The goal came at the 18:41 mark and would be the only scoring of the opening frame. The North Stars maintained their decided edge in shots 21-10.
The break served the Lumberjacks well and they managed to even the score at one 4:43 into the middle frame. Wisconsin’s Dylan Jouppi was first to an otherwise harmless dump-in that was allowed to rattle around unplayed near the side of the North Stars’ net. He slid a backhand pass through the crease to Noah Smejkal who made no mistake to tie the game at 1.
But that was all the offence the visitors could muster on the evening.
Just two seconds past the midway point in the game, North Stars’ captain Hunter Foreshew did the heavy lifting on the end boards and fed a backhand pass to Hayden Cattani just off the top of the crease. Lowden managed to make the initial save, but Cattani prevailed after a couple of swipes at the rebound for what proved to be the game winner. Dylan Winsor was credited with the second assist.
Trahiotis would extend the lead to 3-1 courtesy of another play that originated from below the North Stars’ own goal line. Thunder Bay defensemen Drew Caddo corralled a loose puck after some good corner work by partner Halushak and carried it uncontested to just inside the Lumberjacks blue line. His pass hit a streaking Kuzenko who tipped it neatly over to Trahiotis who converted past Lowden.
Second period shots were similarly lopsided: 16-8 in favour of the home side.
The North Stars continued along the same trajectory with a pair of goals in the opening five minutes just 22 seconds apart. First off the stick of Nolan Desjardins and Lou Vesperini right on top of it to round out the scoring for the evening.
An unusual play happened at the 9:04 mark of the final frame when Stars’ Pier-Luc Bellard was trying to chase down a loose puck near the Lumberjacks face-off dot. Lowden had the same idea, but his effort to swipe the puck away failed and in the process Bellard was sent flying over Lowden’s outstretched goal pads.
Bellard needed assistance to leave the ice with an apparent lower body injury. He did not return. Lowden was assessed a 5-minute major for tripping and ejected from the game.
Final shots were 47-23 for the North Stars who were scoreless in five power play opportunities. The Lumberjacks went 0 for 7 with the man advantage.
Three stars of the game:
#1 – Dimitri Trahiotis (1G, 1A)
#2 – Lou Vesperini (1G)
#3 – Edison Weeks (1G)
Game 2 of the best-of-five goes tomorrow night, 7:30pm, Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.