THUNDER BAY - Saying the Thunder Bay North Stars didn’t perform to their expectations at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup would be an understatement.
After dropping just eight games during the SIJHL regular season and playoffs, the North Stars lost all three of their games in Cochrane, Ont. by a combined score of 16-5.
“Three games will identify your whole year,” said head caoch Rob DeGagne outside of the locker room at Fort William Gardens on Friday. “We had such a good season and our expectations were so high going into [the Dudley-Hewitt Cup]... it’s a big let down for us.”
After a 42-5-1 record during the regular season, the North Stars qualified for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup after winning their league championship with relative ease.
The Stars were consistently the No. 2 team in the national Junior A rankings throughout the season and going into the tournament. After losing to the host Cochrane Crunch in the opening game, they were shutout by the Hearst Lumberjacks, and eliminated from the playoff stage before the puck dropped in the final round robin game.
“Definitely disappointing,” DeGagne said.
"Our scoring went south on us.Our best players weren’t who they needed to be. I guess we were a little shell shocked but for whatever reason we just couldn't get going.”
The lack of energy seemed to linger longer than anyone had anticipated. Once the team developed some momentum, it was handed a devastating blow when goalie Brock Aiken broke his jaw against Hearst. The Stars subsequently lost the game 3-0.
The Stars, turning to backup netminder Dougie Newhouse, lost to top-seeded Oakville by a score of 9-4 to close out the season.
“We were flat for the first game and a half. It wasn’t because we tired. I’m not sure," DeGagne said. "For whatever reason, they didn’t have anything in the tank. We’ll have to address that and analyze it. We just haven’t had time to break it down.”
When asked if the showing reflected poorly on the quality of the hockey in the Superior International Junior Hockey League, DeGagne said no.
“We could skate with them. We could play with them when we’re on our game. The competition [in the SIJHL] is fine," DeGagne said. "We’re a small league, we’d like to grow a bit... But we just didn’t show what we’re capable of.”
Moving forward, the team will look to build on back-to-back Dudley-Hewitt Cup appearances, and possibly add some help from outside the city to their roster that had 23 local players this season.
“I think our size hurt us this year. We didn’t really have many big men," DeGagne said. "When you go down there, they are men. Those are thick kids. We don’t have that.”
DeGagne and the North Stars are hoping to win the bid for 2020’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup, which will be announced in the coming weeks.
“We want to get back there again," DeGagne said. "That’s our goal every year.”
Degagne said star forward Keighan Gerrie will likely move on from the North Stars next year. The NHL prospect has committed to play at the collegiate level at Bowling Green State University in 2020. He was named a finalist for the CJHL’s top forward award, along with five others.