Matthias Gardiman did most of the damage during regulation, so why not let him try to win it with the game on the line?
The Thunder Bay North Stars forward came through in the clutch, netting the shootout winner Saturday night to propel his team to a 5-4 win over the visiting English River Miners in a rare Port Arthur Arena Superior International Junior Hockey League contest.
It was the fourth time in the contest the second-year forward had given the Stars the lead, his hat-trick performance lifting his season total to 31 goals.
“Personally I was just trying to play my game as usual. I’ve got two good line-mates there in (Daniel) Delpaggio and (Zack) Grzelewski. We’ve been connecting all year. We’re just going to try to keep being consistent going into the next couple of games here,” said Gardiman, third on the team with 74 points.
Coach Jeremy Adduono, whose team clinched second place with Friday’s win over Wisconsin, said it’s what he’s come to expect out of the Thunder Bay product.
“Gardi’s been a great player for us all year. There’s no question. Not only does he bring leadership on and off the ice and lead by example, he’s scored a lot of big goals, made a lot of big plays for us,” Adduoo said.
“He plays power plays, penalty kill, one of the guys you can pretty much count on in pretty much any situation.”
That includes the shootout.
Grzelewski struck first, but on their final attempt English Rivers’ John Morales out-waited North Stars goalie Nathanial Dupuis, leaving it up to the hottest stick in the building.
Gardiman calmly skated in on Greg Harney and nonchalantly fired a wrist shot through the English River goalie to collect the two points for Thunder Bay (38-10-5).
“In the shootout I basically just try to relax, stay calm. I’ve been in a few already now, so I’ve got a basic idea what I’m going to do when I go in and I just happened to bury it.”
The Stars top line, keyed by Gardiman, clicked all night long.
Delpaggio fed the draw back to Gardiman for the North Stars first goal, just 79 seconds after the opening face-off.
After Kellen MacBlain tied it at the 11:19 mark, Gardiman struck just nine seconds later, taking a tipped feed from Grzelewski and sliding it past Miners goalie Greg Harney for a 2-1 lead.
But the Miners, with a chance to pass Dryden and take over sole possession of fourth spot in the six-team standings, started the second with a vengeance.
Off the opening draw Royce King was stoned by Dupuis, but the North Stars net-minder couldn’t stop a Taylor Bargar shot that pin-balled toward the twine, Eric Masters getting credit for the equalizer just 15 seconds in.
Two minutes later John Morales, falling to the ice, fired the puck the opposite direction, catching Dupuis off-guard and the Miners led 3-2.
Robert MacLean tied it at 12:26, then with less than four seconds to go in the period, Gardiman stuck again, catching Harney going the wrong direction from the left circle and the North Stars led by one heading home.
They maintained the one-goal lead for most of the third, but a misplayed puck behind his own net by Dupuis cost the North Stars the equalizer when Brendan Wilde banged it home with less than three minutes to go.
Overtime solved nothing.
Thunder Bay, winners of three straight and nine of 10, wraps up regular-season play with three games against Dryden, all on the road.
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