THUNDER BAY – The Kam River Fighting Walleye can’t say the bounces didn’t go their way.
The first-place team caught a break on each of their first two goals on Friday night and the Fighting Walleye pulled away in the third to down the host Thunder Bay North Stars 7-3 in front a season-high 1,823 fans at Fort William Gardens.
North Stars goalie Conner Lemieux, who was eventually pulled after giving up five goals on 38 shots, caught the first bad break early in the second, when Ethan Lang’s shot bounced off his outstretched skate and trickled slow-motion-style into the net to tie the game 1-1 just 38 seconds into the middle frame.
Lemieux was unlucky on the second Fighting Walleye goal too, Jack Cook’s high shot bouncing off his shoulder straight up in the air, gravity forcing it off his back and over the goal line behind him. The Stars never really recovered.
"We started out really slow, but we got some lucky bounced in the second and started clicking. And then in the third we just kind of took over and started getting some in the back of the net,' said Lang, who uppped his season total to six goals for the first-place Fighting Walleye, who improved to 18-5-1 and have a comfortable 11-point lead over second-place Red Lake.
Lang's goal was a long time coming. He hadn't scored since Oct. 7, a span of 18 games, and said he didn't really care how it went in.
"It's been a while since I had my last one and it's seems it's always a lucky or a little cheeky one that gets the monkey off your back. I shot it, I had my head down and I didn't even see it. I saw (Jeremy Dunmore) going to the net and I thought he hit it in off a rebound of something. I guess it just trickled in by him, so I was lucky to get that one."
Kam River coach Geoff Walker said goals like that even themselves out over time, but he'll take it, especially after what he termed a slow start, the Fighting Walleye finding themselves down a goal after 20 minutes after an Easton Glousher shot from outside the blue-line eluded goaltender Eric Vanska 5:11 into the opening period.
"I didn't love our start. I thought we were slow off the hop. But as the game went on, I thought in the second period offensively we started to kind of take over and in the third we did exactly what we wanted to do. They're a good team. I like their roster. They did a lot of good things and we feel we need to make less mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes tonight early on in the game and Vanska held the fort for us and let us get our feet under ourselves and we got going after that."
Up 2-1, Lang added his second of the night at 10:42 of the second, but Thunder Bay's Jack Parker got it back four minutes later, pouncing on a rebound and slamming it home to make it 3-2 after two.
The third just didn't go the North Stars way.
Ryan Doucette and Carson Gorst scored 89 seconds apart on Lemieux, chasing the Thunder Bay goaltender from the game in favour of replacement Keegan Marks. Gorst added his second of the night, his seventh of the season, at the 11:30 mark, the Fighting Walleye;'s third straight goal making it 6-2. Edison Weeks got one back for Thunder Bay with 5:19 to go, but Braeden Duchesne scored an insurance tally late in the period to put the game out of reach.
"We've got to get better goaltending and I think they schooled us a little bit in the third period," said North Stars coach Rob DeGagne. "I thought we played two pretty good periods and then they kind of took it to us in the third."
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Glousher 5 (Pearson, Anton) 5:11. Penalties: Lang KRW (slashing) 7:51, Paddington TB (hooking) 10:51, Bienvenue KRW (slashing) 13:37, Bertrand TB (cross checking) 17:31, E. Lang KRW, Winsor TB (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:47.
Scoring: 2. Kam River, E. Lang 5 (Dunmore, Lamoureux) 0:38. 3. Kam River, Cook 6 (Leduc) 9:47. 4. Kam River, E. Lang 6 (Leduc) 10:42. 5. Thunder Bay, Parker 3 (Anton, Trahiotis) 14:46. Penalties: Bienvenue KRW (cross checking), Fuchs TB (interference) 7 :46.
Scoring: 6. Kam River, Doucette (Dunmore, Cook) 3:05 pp. 7. Kam River, Gorst (Borody, Doucette) 4:34. 8. Kam River, Gorst (Borody, Cook) 11:30. 9. Thunder Bay, Weeks (Murdoch, Parker) 14:41. 10. Kam River, Duchesne (Lamoureux) 16:23. Penalties: Feist LAK (high sticking) 2:34, Bienvenue KRW (holding) 6:05, Leduc KRW (hooking) 8:45, D. Lang KRW (unsportsmanlike conduct) 12:13, Reyelts KRW (roughing) 16:23, Anton TB (hooking) 18:29.
GAME DATA – SOG – Kam River 14-18-15-47, Thunder Bay 20-13-12-45; Power plays (goals-chances) – Kam River (1-4), Thunder Bay (0-6); Goaltenders – Kam River: Eric Vanska, Thunder Bay: Conner Lemieux (38 shots, 33 saves), Keegan Marks (4:34, third); A: 1,823.