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Fighting Walleye knock off winless North Stars in OT

Jack Cook grabbed a loose puck and raced the length of the ice, beating Thunder Bay goalie Conner Lemieux for the game winner.

THUNDER BAY – Three-on-three overtime is a different brand of hockey.

There are more chances, and costly mistakes are often exaggerated.

The Thunder Bay North Stars learned that the hard way on Saturday night, a collision between two of their players deep in their own end leaving a loose puck for Kam River Fighting Walleye defenceman Jack Cook to scoop up and race with down the ice.

The Thunder Bay-born blueliner, who spent last season in the Canadian Central Hockey League, bore down on North Stars goaltender Conner Lemieux and buried the puck behind him, earning the Walleye a hard-fought 4-3 triumph, their fourth win in four attempts to open the 2022-23 Superior International Junior Hockey League season.

“I saw the two North Stars guys down and the puck popped up. The next thing I know it was just me and the goalie and I made a move and that was that,” said Cook, who had a brief taste of the SIJHL two years ago, playing exhibition games during the COVID era with the Thunder Bay Kings.

“We didn’t play our best game, but I thought at times we were by far the best team and when we came down the stretch, we capitalized.”

The goal came just 41 seconds into the extra frame.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Fighting Walleye will take it, said coach Matt Valley, his team coming off a 3-1 home opener against the same North Stars squad the night before.

“It’s always fun playing against them, especially here, and they play us tight every time,” said Valley, who briefly suited up for the Stars in his playing days.

“Credit to them for the work they’ve done, but good for our guys coming together. It was not the prettiest game, not the prettiest win, but we rallied in front of a guy, (goaltender) Jack Orchard who has worked really hard to make our team and that’s his first junior A win in his first junior A start.”

Kam River wasted little time making Lemieux’s acquaintance, Jeremy Dunmore taking a quick shot 50 seconds in that beat the Thunder Bay netminder.

But it was the Stars (0-3-0) who would find themselves in front after 20 minutes.

Californian Bobby Doukov, a first year Thunder Bay player, knotted the game at the 6:36 mark and Edison Weeks, his family in the Fort William Gardens stands, pounced on a Doukov rebound with 4:39 to play in the period, beating Orchard five-hole.

The Fighting Walleye (4-0-0) got even early in the second, thanks to a miscue deep in North Stars territory. Ethan Lang grabbed the loose puck and surprised Lemieux with a quick shot, popping it past him to even the score at 2-2.

Kam River and Thunder Bay traded goals a minute apart in the third. Sebatiano Biagi ripped a wrist shot from just inside the blueline that evaded Lemieux’s reach, but the lead didn’t last long, North Stars winger Julian Rutland picking up a loose puck after a battle in the Fighting Walleye zone when awry for the Kam River D.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys and young guys. We’ve got to find some guys. We’ve still got lots of injuries. It would have been nice to win in front of our home crowd, but we’ll take it as a learning lesson and move on to the next one,” North Stars coach Rob DeGagne said.  

Star gazing: Kam River’s Logan Gallaher was handed a gross misconduct in the second for an altercation with Thunder Bay captain Matthew Halushak. Both players were tossed from the contest … Attendance was 1,311 ... Kam River outshot Thunder Bay 35 to 23. 

: 1. Kam River, Dunmore (McLeod) 0:50. 2. Thunder Bay, Doukov 1 (unassisted) 6:36. 3. Thunder Bay, Weeks 1 (Doukov) 15:21 pp. Penalties: Egner KFW (unsportsmanlike conduct) 13:50, Buffone KFW (slashing) 15:42, Trahiotis TB (slashing) 17:41.

: 4. Kam River, Lang (unassisted) 2:33. Penalties: Rutland TB (cross checking) 5:41, Meloche TB (unsportsmanlike conduct) 12:24, Gallaher KFW (misconduct, misconduct,game misconduct, gross misconduct), Halushak TB (misconduct, misconduct, game misconduct) 13:12, Meloche TB (boarding) 14:31.

: 5. Kam River, Biagi (Duchesne) 6:35. 6. Thunder Bay, Rutland (Weeks, Broughton) 7:35. Penalties: Lamoureux KFW (hooking) 3:23, Dunmore KFW (unsportsmanlike conduct) 10:09, Glousher TB (unsportsmanlike conduct) 12:25, Caddo TB (high sticking) 14:06.

: 7. Kam River, Cook () 0:41. Penalties: None

GAME DATASOG – Kam River 14-12-8-1-35, Thunder Bay 10-4-9-0-23; Power plays (goals-chances) – Kam River (0-5), Thunder Bay (1-3); Goaltenders – Kam River: Jack Orchard, Thunder Bay: Conner Lemieux; A: 1,311.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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