THUNDER BAY -- The Thunder Bay Chill have had to settle for splits in each of the first three series of the regular season.
They’re hoping the fourth time will be the charm in their quest for a six point weekend.
The Chill started off on the right foot on Friday, scoring a 3-0 victory over WSA Winnipeg at Fort William Stadium in the first of their two-game series.
The win briefly puts Thunder Bay (4-3-0) above .500 but they were already looking ahead to the second task of the weekend in the minutes immediately following the final whistle.
“Coming out (Saturday) and not getting the job done will not be a successful weekend,” head coach Tony Colistro said. “I think every player in that locker room knows they need to come out tomorrow and get the three points.”
The Chill took care of business early in the opener getting on the scoreboard while the game was still in its infancy, taking advantage of an element where they have struggled so far this season.
In the third minute Thunder Bay received a free kick from 35 yards out and finally took advantage of a set piece.
Paul Dillon stepped up to take the kick and directed the ball into the area, where it glanced off the head of Chill striker Simon Cote-Kougnima before landing at the feet of captain Nolan Intermoia. One well-placed touch later and Thunder Bay had the icebreaker.
“Paul served in a really good ball to the back post and my run is always into the middle. Simon did a really good job to challenge up there and got the ball right to my foot and I was lucky enough to get a good touch on it,” Intermoia said.
Those choreographed plays have been a facet where the reigning league finalists and Central Conference champs have excelled in past campaigns but they had come up empty through their first half dozen matches.
It has been an area of emphasis lately.
“We changed our set pieces and we worked on them this week and got the early goal. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Colistro said.
Chill keeper Daniel Alvarado had one of his toughest tests of the contest immediately following the goal, as a Winnipeg shot from 40 yards out was lobbed high and was descending just below the bar before the netminder tipped the ball high.
Opportunities were few and far between for both sides for the remainder of the first half as neither side could piece enough consecutive touches together to generate sustained downfield pressure.
The best chance for Winnipeg to find an equalizer came in the 63rd minute when Paulo Del Grosso made a run on the outside but was separated from the ball by Intermoia in the box before he could place an attempt towards the goal.
Insurance came for Thunder Bay in the 69th minute. Midfielder Dominic Roberts charged forward on the outside and put a cross into the area that was punched out by keeper Josh Partaker right at Thunder Bay’s Declan Rodriguez, who headed the clearing attempt into the open net.
“I saw the keeper was going to get there so I had to get there for that second ball,” Rodriguez said.
The Chill made a handful of substitutions in the second half which helped change the complexion of the final minutes.
The fresh legs enabled Thunder Bay to be the aggressor pushing the ball ahead, rather than the trailing Winnipeg side.
The added spark paid off in added time, with Jeremy Poncet playing a ball through to fellow substitute Arturo Rodriguez Prat
“I think they all came in and changed the game for us. That was the reason we secured this game,” Colistro said.
“Jeremy did a lot for us and Arturo came in and had a much better game getting the goal….You need that when 11 players are struggling.”
While they were pleased with how they won, the team knows it will be for not if they fall in the second game. Twice this season the Chill has won a series opener before falling in the second game, including in their road trip to Winnipeg to kick off the regular season.
A similarly quick start will be necessary to complete their first sweep of 2014.
“We knew we had to score early and get that early lead to get in them right away and set it up for (Saturday),” Rodriguez said. “Playing back-to-back is hard for a lot of players so we didn’t have to go all out with every player so we could rest some players.”
Pitch marks: Midfielder Vitor Huvos (quad) is expected to return to game action on Saturday…Roberts had his father and brother visit from Toronto to take in the game. He picked up a yellow card in the first half…The Chill improve to 12-2-1 all-time and 2-1-0 this season against Winnipeg…Mitchell Thorn is likely to get the start in between the woodwork on Saturday…The rematch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Chapples Park.
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