Ultimately, the series means little.
Both the Thunder Bay North Stars and the Fort Frances Lakers have long since secured spots in the Superior International Junior Hockey League semifinals.
Their two-game, total-goal series allows the winner to choose their opponent in the next round. But it’s also about building confidence, especially for the Stars, who played second-fiddle to the No. 5-ranked Lakers all season long.
On Saturday night the North Stars fired the first shot across the playoff bow, riding Kris Kellaway’s lucky bounce late in the third to a 4-3 win.
“Yeah, it was a lucky one, but I’ll take it. I just got the shot on goal and it just happened to roll over (the defenceman’s) shoulder. The defenceman was trying his hardest to stop it from going in, but in the end ended up helping me put it back in,” said Kellaway, who had 16 goals in 44 regular-season contests.
“We’ll take it. It was well-deserved for our team. We worked hard tonight and it was one of those goals that came our way.”
North Stars coach Jeremy Adduono, who recorded his first SIJHL playoff win, said he didn’t even see what happened.
But he’ll take the result.
“Anytime you start the playoffs with a win, it’s always a positive thing, no matter what way you look at it. Whether it’s a two-game aggregate or a seven-game series, winning the first game is always important, No. 1 for the confidence of your team. And it tends to set the tone for the series.”
The Stars will take a one-goal advantage into next Friday’s rematch, which moves from the friendly confines of Fort William Gardens to Fort Frances, where the Lakers will look to rebound.
Thunder Bay forward Trevor Hynnes, who erased a 2-1 Fort Frances lead early in the third, finishing off a 2-on-1 with Kellaway at the 6:44 mark, said drawing first blood was important.
“It’s been a hard-fought battle with Fort Frances all season long. They’re a great team and to get a big win in our first game in the playoffs, it’s huge. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going and carry it throughout the playoffs for sure,” the 20-year-old Hynnes said.
The Stars struck first when Cary Brown stepped over the blue-line and fired a wobbler that found it’s way past Fort Frances net-minder Devin Tappenden at 7:30 of the first.
The Lakers had a great chance to tie it just shy of the 10-minute mark when Lyndon Lipinski unleashed a shot that squeezed through the pads of North Stars goalie Eric Mann – author of 40 saves on the night – but was cleared from harm’s way before it slid over the goal line.
Fort Frances, who out-shot Thunder Bay 43-23, did tie it up on the power play 94 seconds into the middle stanza, SIJHL leading scorer Lucas Debenedet notching the goal.
The Lakers took the lead 6:44 into the third on Brent Aiken’s first of two on the night, but it lasted less than three minutes when Hynnes struck.
Defenceman Brandon Mihalus put the Stars back on top at 10:29, firing a low shot that went between Tappenden’s skates for a 3-2 Thunder Bay lead. Aiken tied it with just over five minutes to go.
“I know everyone on our team left it on the ice,” Hynnes said. “It was a hard-fought battle for sure, right from the first drop of the puck. It was an exciting game to play in and being a hockey player, you’ve got to love playing in those games.”
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Brown 1 (Santorelli, Bra. Wolframe) 13:53. Penalties: Hynnes TB (cross checking) 4:59, Santorelli TB (boarding) 17:19,
Scoring: Debenedenet 1 (Wickstrom, Meyer) 1:34 pp. Penalties: Kaarela TB (cross checking) 0:36, Gobeil FF (holding) 8:20, Jasper FF (slashing) 13:55, Bra. Wolframe TB, Kurm FF (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:31, Kareela TB (cross checking) 18:33.
Scoring: 3. Fort Frances, Aiken (Nolan, Cousineau) 6:44. 4. Thunder Bay, Hynnes 1 (Mihalus, Kellaway) 9:10. 5. Thunder Bay, Mihalus 1 (Bra. Wolframe) 10:29. 6. Aiken 2 (Nolan) 14:23. 7. Thunder Bay, Kellaway 1 (Hynnes) 16:21. Penalties: Bre. Wolframe TB (interference) 18:23.
GAME DATA – SOG – Fort Frances 17-14-12-43, Thunder Bay 7-11-5-23; Power plays (goals-chances) – Fort Frances (1-5), Thunder Bay (0-2); Goaltenders – Fort Frances: Devin Tappenden, Lakehead: Eric Mann.
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