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History will be made in Bill Salonen Cup Final

Fighting Walleye look to win back-to-back titles while the Bombers are playing in their first ever Bill Salonen Cup final.

THUNDER BAY – Either the Kam River Fighting Walleye will become back-to-back Superior International Junior Hockey League champions or the Sioux Lookout Bombers will clinch their first ever Bill Salonen Cup.

The two clubs left standing in the SIJHL will begin their best of seven series at Norwest Arena on Wednesday, with the winner earning a spot in the Centennial Cup in Oakville, Ont.

The Fighting Walleye earned their way into their third straight league championship with sweeps of the Kenora Devil’s Gap Islanders in the quarterfinals and the Red Lake Miners in the semifinals.

Even though the club has reeled off 23 consecutive wins, which includes the regular season, head coach Jesse Messier stressed that his boys don’t take anything for granted.

“Any win streak is only ever mentioned by people outside the dressing room,” Messier said. “We come to the rink every single day, and make sure we put in the work for that day and focus on the task at hand. It’s not mentioned in our room.”

The Fighting Walleye are looking to repeat as league champions, which was last accomplished by the Dryden GM Ice Dogs in 2017 and 2018.

The Sioux Lookout Bombers reached the Bill Salonen Cup Final in just their second year as they knocked out the Fort Frances Lakers in four games to open the playoffs and needed five games to dispose of the Thunder Bay North Stars in the semi-finals.

“I don’t think there was any panic in the room after losing game four in overtime against the North Stars,” noted Bombers defenceman Peter Zilkalns.

“It was nice to win game three at the Fort William Gardens and then coming back in front of our home fans to win the series was even better.

“It would be huge to win a league championship. Sioux Lookout loves us and show us so much support. It’s awesome to be in the league finals in just our second year.”

The top two goalies statistically in the playoffs will also be front and centre in this series with graduating netminder Jack Osmond of the Bombers going head-to-head with 20-year-old Ashton Sadauskas of the Fighting Walleye.

Sadauskas is 7-0 in the post-season with a goals against average of 1.43 and a save percentage of .940.

“I try to be consistent every day that I come to the rink and stay stoic out there,” Sadauskas noted.

“Playing in Northwestern Ontario has been a good experience for me. I’m very grateful for this opportunity - I have a great billet family and everyone in the room has been great to me.”

Osmond comes into the league final with just an overtime loss in nine games (8-0-1) to go along with a 2.25 goal against average and a .942 save percentage.

“He’s been awesome in the playoffs,” Zilkalns added, when asked about his graduating goaltender.

“I love him as a teammate, he’s great in practice and he makes great saves in the games. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in the finals.”

The Bombers have an 11-5 overall record in the playoffs while the Fighting Walleye enter game one with a 22-8 record.

“The Bombers are a tough offensive team and have been pretty successful in the playoffs,” Sadauskas added. “They play with structure and have a good power play, so it'll be a good test for us.”

Zilkalns said there is extra motivation to win a championship for their eight graduating players (2003 born).

“Especially for some of the players that have come from Fort Frances, who were never lucky enough to advance in the playoffs, it’s exciting for them to have a shot at the title and a trip to Oakville, ” Zilkalns mentioned.

“The Fighting Walleye might struggle with some of our physicality, but I think it should be a good series all around. We know we have to play good defensive hockey and find ways to put pucks in the back of their net.”

LINEUP NOTES: Coach Messier indicated that forward Riley Borody has been skating with the team and could return at some point during the Bill Salonen Cup Final. Fellow forwards Daxton Lang and Jeremy Dunmore are unlikely to make an appearance even though they were skating at practice on April 16.

Head to Head

Nov 10: Bombers 3 @ Fighting Walleye 4 (SO)
Nov 11: Bombers 4 @ Fighting Walleye 5
Jan 12: Bombers 2 @ Fighting Walleye 0
Jan 13: Bombers 2 @ Fighting Walleye 3 (SO)
Jan 26: Fighting Walleye 5 @ Bombers 4 (OT)
Jan 27: Fighting Walleye 1 @ Bombers 4
Feb 10: Fighting Walleye 3 @ Bombers 2

The Fighting Walleye won five of seven head-to-head contests with both teams, collecting 21 goals.

Series Schedule

Wed Apr 17: Bombers @ Fighting Walleye 7:05pm
Thurs Apr 18: Bombers @ Fighting Walleye 7:05pm
Sat Apr 20: Fighting Walleye @ Bombers 8:00pm
Sun Apr 21: Fighting Walleye @ Bombers 5:00pm
Tues Apr 23: Bombers @ Fighting Walleye 7:05pm
Thurs Apr 25: Fighting Walleye @ Bombers 8:00pm
Sat Apr 27: Bombers @ Fighting Walleye 7:05pm

All times are Eastern Daylight Saving Time


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