THUNDER BAY, Ont. – A Jordan Fralich power play goal 16 and a half minutes into the second period proved to be the game-winner as the College of St. Scholastica Saints defeated the defending Superior International Junior Hockey League champion Thunder Bay North Stars 5-2 in an exhibition encounter Sunday afternoon at the Fort William Gardens in front of 730 spectators.
A fast-paced first frame saw St. Scholastica NCAA D-III side from Duluth, Minn., open the scoring nine minutes into the contest as Brent Jones took a Karl Wright feed from his own zone then cut into Thunder Bay territory where the sophomore forward snapped a shot that beat North Stars starter Jordan Smith from just inside the blueline.
The Saints tacked on another just past the midway point of the session as freshman and former SIJHLer Jaedin Ness, who skated for the Fort Frances Lakers, stuffed in a rebound from close range off a Dustin Cordeiro attempt from the slot.
They had another chance to extend their cushion late in the first frame after Isaac Kobienia was sent in alone on a breakaway, but he was foiled by Smith who handled his backhand attempt.
Goaltending changes halfway through the middle stanza saw freshman Jack Branby enter for St. Scholastica replacing Zane Steeves while Seth McKay did likewise for the North Stars’ Smith.
Seeing their first on-ice game action of the 2019-20 campaign, the Saints added to their lead moments into power play as junior blueliner Fralich put one through McKay from the point at 16:36.
Thunder Bay got on the board just over a minute later as Robert Tyska buried one from close range as he finished off a rebound off a Cody Bruchkowski shot from between the circles.
St. Scholastica added one more late in the second as junior captain Nate Pionk powered his way in on the left side and calmly lifted a back hand into the right side of the net to make it 4-1 after two.
The final frame saw the North Stars pull within two at 14:11 as Tyska fed newcomer Enrico Bozac on a mini two-on-one who slipped one through the legs on Branby to connect in his Thunder Bay debut.
However, the Saints secured the victory a couple shifts later as sophomore Riley Bechard came down the left wing and hammered one past McKay from the faceoff dot to round out the scoring.
Wright and Cordeiro dished out two assists apiece for CSS in the triumph.
Shots on goal in the contest favoured St. Scholastica by a 56-20 count.
Branby picked up the win in relief, stopping seven of the nine attempts he faced while Steeves stopped all 11 shots he saw in 32 and a half minutes of work.
McKay suffered the loss allowing three against while making 24 saves and Smith handled 27 of 29 in his time between the pipes.
Up next for both clubs, the Saints take on Augsburg Auggies in a weekend home-and-home set while the North Stars return to SIJHL play Wednesday as they host the Wisconsin Lumberjacks in a 7:30 p.m. start back at the Gardens.
Photo credit: Gary Moskalyk