It would be easy to take an expansion team like the English River Miners for granted.
Arriving at Fort William Gardens with a 1-6-1 record, at first the first-year squad should have been an easy mark for the 6-0-1 Thunder Bay North Stars, fighting for a share of top spot in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
But for two periods Friday night, the Stars had their hands full, though ultimately they pulled away with a three-goal third to capture a 5-2 victory.
Coach Jeremy Adduono, banished to the press box after a brawl-filled Tuesday home opener, said he warned his team ahead of time not to take the Miners lightly.
“I’m never going to say any game is a sure win, even when we have a healthy lineup,” Adduono said, asked if that’s how the North Stars had approached the game.
“From what I’ve seen out of our five opponents in this league, if you don’t come ready to play, there’s a good chance you won’t win the game. I’ve been telling the guys, just showing up to the rink and putting the uniform on and stepping on the ice isn’t good enough.”
Though they’ve yet to lose in regulation, Adduono wants to ensure his troops maintain the momentum and don’t try to coast on their past successes.
“We’ve had a good start, but teams are going to be ready each night to play us.”
It helps when you have great goaltending to back you up.
That’s just what the Miners got from California import Holden (PD) Melgoza, who stopped 40 shots directed his way by the Stars, including 24 in the final frame alone.
Miners coach Kevin Kahoot, who this time a year ago was behind the Thunder Bay bench, said he likes what he’s seen from Melgoza in the early stages of 2013-14.
“He’s one of the reasons we keep games close right now. He’s playing really well for us,” Kahoot said. “I think every outing he’s getting stronger and stronger. He’s getting more confident as he plays more and he’s a big part of our club,” said Kahoot.
If only the guys in front of him could find that consistency, he added.
The Miners, making their first visit to Fort William Gardens, have been competitive most nights, but lack staying power against more experienced competition.
“We’re not strong on the forecheck.We’re mishandling the puck in our own zone sometimes. And then we’ll go through stretches of time where we’re playing good hockey. But the boys have to learn to play consistent hockey for 60 minutes. It’s getting closer, but the frustration is getting there that they play well enough to lose by a little bit, but not well enough to win,” Kahoot said.
Cary Brown scored the lone goal of the first, his team-leading eighth of the season. English River’s Taylor Bargar evened the score 4:11 into the second. Seven minutes later Zach Grzelewski pushed the Stars on top again, though the lead was short lived, as four minutes later Bargar ripped a snapshot that completely fooled North Stars goalie Eric Mann.
Mathias Gardiman restored the Thunder Bay lead for good at 8:33, roofing a shot past Melgoza. A minute later Grzelewski struck again, giving him two goals in two straight games. Kris Kellaway iced it with an empty netter.
The Stars (7-0-1) take on Fort Frances as their home-stand continues Saturday night at Fort William Gardens.
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