There are a lot of words that can describe the first two games of the semifinal series between the Thunder Bay North Stars and Minnesota Iron Rangers.
Passive is not one of them.
Minnesota evened the best-of-seven series with a 4-2 victory over the North Stars in a fierce Superior International Junior Hockey League playoff affair that saw the two teams combine to record 151 minutes in penalties.
Don’t expect the intensity to be toned down on either side, says North Stars head coach Jeremy Adduono. Rather, he thinks it will only pick up as the series progresses.
“You’ve got two really good hockey teams with guys who love to play the game and are playing hard and there’s a lot of pride on both sides,” Adduono said.
“Both teams want to win the series equally and you want to be aggressive and initiate play.”
That sentiment was echoed down the hall.
“It was a crazy, crazy game,” said Iron Rangers head coach Chris Walby. “We’re so similar as far as the different dynamics, it’s a great matchup and it has been all year. You’re going to see great games like this all the way throughout.”
The bulk of those minutes were assessed to the North Stars, who received 110 of them including game misconducts to blueliners Jesse Taylor and Ryan Walsh.
All of the infractions combined to provide Minnesota with nine power play opportunities through the course of the contest, and they converted on three of them.
Adduono refused to say his team crossed a line but admitted there needed to be a little more discretion at times.
“It’s a fine line. You want guys to be aggressive and on the body finishing checks but at the same time you want to be disciplined,” Adduono said.
“It’s an emotional game. I want my guys playing with passion and I think they did that and I think both teams did that.”
Minnesota opened the scoring in the first period, notching their first goal of the series. They capitalized with the man advantage with defenceman Thomas Fazio firing a shot from the top of the point that beat North Stars goaltender Eric Mann.
The tally broke a nearly 70 minute shutout streak for Mann after he kept the Iron Rangers at bay in Game 1.
Despite a flurry of chances on both sides, that marker held up as the lone goal until the second half of the middle frame.
Thunder Bay utilized the open ice of a four-on-four with Kris Kellaway leading a two-on-one rush and outwaiting his defender before sliding the puck across to Brandon Mihalus who beat Minnesota keeper Alex Reichle.
Both squads stepped on the ice for the third period with the score deadlocked 1-1 but it was the home side that would strike first.
On a delayed penalty, Brandon Wolframe finished the play with the goal for his first of the postseason.
That lead lasted four minutes before the Iron Rangers responded with a goal that took the wind out of Thunder Bay’s sails. From the half boards, Seth Chumley threw the puck towards the goal and it ricocheted in front to slide through Mann.
From there, penalty troubles dashed any dreams the North Stars had of emerging victorious.
Two penalties on one play created a Minnesota two-man advantage where Fazio finished off a pretty passing play with his second of the game.
After Walsh was ejected with a checking from behind major, the Iron Rangers added insurance with Trevor Hoth scoring the club’s third power play goal of the match.
Between Taylor and Walsh being lost for the game as well as stalwart rearguard Tim Cavar sitting for a 10 minute misconduct earlier in the contest, the North Stars’ defencemen were gassed by the mid-point of the third.
Adduono admitted fatigue might have been starting to set in as the game approached the final stages, especially in penalty killing situations.
“I think at one point we had three defencemen in the box,” he said. “It’s definitely tough when you get down to four or five defencemen so it was probably a factor.”
With the series shifting to south of the border, it was a lost opportunity for the North Stars to maintain their momentum against a squad that won six of their 11 regular season meetings.
Now that things are all even, Walby likes his team’s chances coming home for what now becomes a best-of-five series.
“The crucial game, the numbers are out there that whoever wins Game 2 goes on to win the series,” he said.
“This one was huge. If we had gone down 2-0 it would have been tough to climb out of.”
Star gazing: The North Stars top line of Matthias Gardiman, Zach Grzelewski and Daniel Del Paggio remains pointless in their four playoff games. Gardiman said even though it might be frustrating, they are encouraged to have been generating chances.
Scoring: 1. Minnesota, Fazio 2 (Frank, Losurdo) 9:55 pp. Penalties: Santorelli TB (roughing) 3:08; Kellaway TB (slashing) 8:30; Erickson MIN (goaltender interference), Vaillant TB (interference) 10:34; Anderson MIN (cross-checking) 12:28; Erickson MIN (roughing, misconduct), Anderson MIN (roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct), Reynolds MIN (roughing), Bra. Wolframe TB (roughing), Taylor TB (fighting, game misconduct), Brown TB (roughing, misconduct), Cavar TB (roughing, misconduct) 14:32; Audet MIN (slashing) 16:09; Routheau MIN (roughing) Madison MIN (boarding) 19:33.
Scoring: 2. Thunder Bay, Mihalus 2 (Kellaway, Walsh) 12:56. Penalties: Millis MIN (roughing, misconduct), Chumley MIN (roughing), Hynnes TB (roughing, misconduct), Mihalus TB (roughing, slashing) 5:38; Kellaway (cross-checking) 7:21; Fazio MIN (hooking) 8:15; Audet MIN (high-sticking) 9:21; Kaarela TB (interference) 11:12; Anderson MIN (slashing) 11:59; Madison MIN (roughing) 18:32.
Scoring: 3. Thunder Bay, Bra. Wolframe 1 (Santorelli) 4:33. 4. Minnesota, Chumley 1 (unassisted) 8:25. 5. Minnesota, Fazio 3 (Losurdo, Hoth) 10:23 pp. 6. Minnesota, Hoth 1 (Erickson) 16:11 pp. Penalties: Bre. Wolframe TB (cross-checking) 5:12; Bre. Wolframe TB (roughing), Martyn TB (check to the head, misconduct) 10:01; Walsh TB (checking from behind, game misconduct) 14:19; Hoth MIN (interference) 17:10; Reynolds MIN (roughing) 17:40
GAME DATA - SOG - Minnesota: (13-16-12-41), Thunder Bay (13-14-7-34); Power plays (goals-chances) - Minnesota: (3-9) Thunder Bay (0-8); Goaltenders- Minnesota: Alex Reichle (32 saves, 34 shots), Thunder Bay: Eric Mann (37 saves, 41 shots).
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