SIJHL semifinal preview: Thief River Falls Norskies vs. Thunder Bay North Stars

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls, Minn., will be the site Tuesday for Game 1 of the Superior International Junior Hockey League semifinal series between the hometown Norskies and the Thunder Bay North Stars.

Here’s a look at this best-of-seven affair.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Norskies met the North Stars 10 times during the campaign and Thief River Falls came away with victories in seven of them to take the season set.

The trio of Thunder Bay triumphs did all come within their last four meetings however.

THE SEASON: The Thief River Falls Norskies had a tremendous second year in the SIJHL posting a league-best 41 victories.

They finished second overall in the league standings with a 41-11-2-2 record, just two points back of the first place Dryden GM Ice Dogs.

Thunder Bay meanwhile was third in the SIJHL going 38-13-4-1.

They were however the hottest team in the league in the second half of the season as they went 22-3-1-1 in their final 27 outings.

The North Stars also tacked on three more triumphs in their first-round playoff sweep of the Minnesota Iron Rangers.

LAST TIME: This series marks the first-ever playoff meeting between the two sides.

POINT PRODUCERS: Thief River Falls produced three skaters in the Top 10 in league scoring.

Parker Simonson was second in goals and points with 37 and 68.

Michael Johnson was fifth in offensive numbers with 64 points while Top Defensive Forward recipient Mitchell Soderberg tied for ninth with 54 points.

Thunder Bay meanwhile produced five players that finished the regular season among the Top 10-point getters.

They were Alex Maticic (65) fourth, Avery Siau (63) sixth, Bradley Thrower (60) seventh, Brendan Gillis (56) eighth and Ryan Mignault (54) who tied for ninth.

Kyle Auger scored 15 times in just 27 games for the North Stars to tie for the league lead in goals among defencemen. His six game-winning markers led all SIJHL blueliners.

CCM Hockey Rookie of the Year Keighan Gerrie paced the club in their series win over Minnesota as he produced eight points, which currently leads the league in postseason scoring.

Forward Gillis and defenceman Auger are next with seven points apiece.

GOALKEEPERS: Brandon Bodnar of the North Stars led all SIJHL goalkeepers in both wins and shutouts with 23 and eight respectively.

He was also named the league’s Top Goaltender for 2017-18.

Meanwhile Bailey Schmitz of Thief River Falls boasted the best save percentage at .927. He was also second in shutouts with a half dozen to his credit.

In the playoff triumph over the Iron Rangers, Bodnar went 2-0 while Dougie Newhouse won the other in his postseason debut.

NORSKIES’ NOTES: The Norskies were fourth in the SIJHL on the power play at 18.5%. … They however led the way on the penalty kill as Thief River Falls was a league-best 88% while shorthanded. … When leading after the first frame the Norskies were 22-1-1-0. … After being up following two periods of play, Thief River Falls was 27-2-0-1. … They were 30-2-1 when scoring first in games this season. … The Norskies are 1-3 in their brief playoff history. … Parker Simonson’s 37 goals were the second-most in the league this season. … His seven game-winners put him second among all skaters. … He also had an 11-game goal streak earlier in the campaign and a 13-game point run. … Michael Johnson paced the SIJHL in assists with 52. … Mitchell Soderberg and Jared Pedersen tied for second in shorthanded markers with three apiece. … Bailey Schmitz had 20 wins, which was second-most among league netminders. … His six shutouts also put him second in that category. … He led the way in save percentage at .927. … The Norskies started the season 18-0. … Thief River Falls led the SIJHL in attendance for a second straight season. … They averaged 757 fans per game, including a league single-game-high 2,971 back on January 27 vs. the Fort Frances Lakers. … As the home team in 2017-18 the club was 19-8-0-1 and a SIJHL-best 22-3-2-1 as the visitors. … They were listed 11th in the final Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20 rankings for the season.

NORTH STARS’ NOTES: The North Stars were second overall on the power play at 23.6%. … Thunder Bay was third on the P.K. at 82.8%. … When holding the lead after one period of play the Stars were a perfect 24-0. … The team was 30-1-1-0 when up after 40 minutes. …When scoring first in a game, they were 33-2-1-0. … Thunder Bay went 17-7-3-1 as the home team in the regular season and are 2-0 so far in the playoffs. … As the visitors, the North Stars were 17-7-3-1 and 1-0 in the postseason. … Brad Thrower led the league in power play goals with 12 and man advantage points with 29. … Joe Newhouse led all SIJHL defenceman in assists and points with 40 and 47 respectively. … D-man Kyle Auger’s six game-winning goals topped all league rearguards. … Brandon Bodnar’s eight shutouts led the league and were just two off the league record of 10 set by Carter Hutton back in 2005-06. … In the first 16 years of the SIJHL, the North Stars have won a record five Bill Salonen Cup league championships. … Their last victory though was back in 2010. … They have also finished as runner-up twice. … The club also won the 2006 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A crown. …Notable North Stars alumni include goaltender Carter Hutton and defenceman Robert Bortuzzo of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. They were members of that 2006 Salonen and Dudley-Hewitt Cup winning side. … As a franchise, the North Stars boast an 80-49 overall playoff record.

SIJHL Playoffs

Series D
Semifinal series
No. 2 Thief River Falls Norskies vs. No. 3 Thunder Bay North Stars
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Tuesday, April 3 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. CT (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 2: Wednesday, April 4 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. CT (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 3: Saturday, April 7 @ Thunder Bay 8 p.m. ET (Fort William Gardens)
Game 4: Sunday, April 8 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. ET (Fort William Gardens)
Game 5*: Monday, April 9 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. CT (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 6*: Wednesday, April 11 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. ET (Fort William Gardens)
Game 7*: Thursday, April 12 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. CT (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
*- if necessary

All SIJHL games are streamed live and on demand online at

Photo credit: Gary Moskalyk