Steadied on the back end by the stellar play of goaltender Jordan Smith and recently acquired defenceman Zack Davis, the Thunder Bay North Stars shut out their crosstown rival – and #8 ranked team in the country – Kam River Fighting Walleye 2-0 in front of a healthy crowd of 735 at the Fort William Gardens on Wednesday night.
On paper, the game might’ve expected to play out differently. The Fighting Walleye looking for their 9th straight win as they’ve shot up both the league standings and national rankings during that stretch, and the North Stars struggling to find their early season groove, winners of just one of their last five and sliding into unfamiliar territory in the SIJHL standings.
The North Stars would open the scoring – with what would stand as the game winner – at 10:36 of the opening frame. Pouncing on a loose puck just inside the Fighting Walleye blue line, Hayden Cattani let go a shot from inside the left circle that a streaking Noah Broughton got a stick on at the top of the crease to deflect it past Vanska. Mason Wesley had the other assist.
It would stand to be the only puck past either goaltender in 66 combined shots in the contest as otherwise Vanska was equally as unbeatable as his counterpart on the night.
From there, the goaltending took over with a Smith save on a partial breakaway midway through the second sandwiched between two stellar, multiple save, point blank sequences for Vanska.
It was Smith though who saved his best work for the last stanza. Protecting a one-goal lead, the home side withstood a 20-shot barrage in the third period, with several saves of the highlight variety to preserve the victory.
North Stars captain Hunter Forshew added some insurance with Vanska pulled in favour of the extra attacker, potting one in the empty net from near his own blue line to seal the victory with just under a minute remaining in the game.
Final shots were 42-22 in favour of the Fighting Walleye. Smith was named the game’s first star, with Broughton and Kam River goalie Eric Vanska second and third respectively.
Thunder Bay heads out on the road for a pair in Thief River Falls this weekend, while Kam River has a date with the Red Lake Miners in a showdown between teams tied atop the league standings.