OLIVER PAIPOONGE – The Thunder Bay North Stars power play was firing on all cylinders in the second period on Saturday night.
Four-and-a-half minutes into the middle stanza Kam River's Brad Fortier was tossed for a high stick, earning the Stars a seven-minute man advantage.
Jett Leishman, Michael Vechio and Nikolas Campbell each scored on the ensuing power-play, breaking open a 1-1 tie and the Stars went on to down the Fighting Walleye 7-2. It was the fourth win in four outings for the Stars in the inaugural Teleco Cup.
It was the turning point, said Vecchio, who finished with a pair of goals and an assist.
“That power play was huge for us. It was seven minutes and we knew that we had to at least get one or two – or maybe three – on them. That was a big game-changer for us and it got us in the lead,” said the 20-year-old, who only managed eight goals last season, his second with the North Stars.
Kam River coach Matt Valley was a little less thrilled with the call.
“It was a joke,” he said, adding it was clearly an unintentional high stick.
“Of course it changed the game. It's the best team with the best power play in the league. You give them a seven-minute power play. Why? It makes no sense. However, we should respond way better. It was a terrible kill, too. That's on us.”
It's tough enough facing the Stars top power play line of Campbell, Jacob Anttonen and new arrival Michael Stubbs. When the second unit – Leishman, Vecchio and Hunter Foreshew – starts scoring, it doesn't take long for the goals to start pouring in.
It's hard to believe it was the line's first game together.
Leishman, who has three goals in four games, said it's great to start contributing early.
“It's good to be on the score sheet and contributing to the team. I think we're all clicking a little more as the season goes on. It's a late start to the season and we're still kind of gelling together and finding our chemistry, but the past couple of games we're all working together and putting the puck in the net,” said Leisman, who opened the scoring just 28 seconds in, punching it past Fighting Walleye goaltender Eric Vanska.
Evan Enegren tied things up five minutes later on the power play and the two teams were deadlocked at a goal apiece after one.
The three power-play goals stretched the lead to 4-1 and Vecchio added his second of the night with six minutes to play in the second, ripping a high shot over Vanska's glove.
Trenton Morriseau cut the Stars lead to three at 5:11 of the third, but Riley Cardinal and Campbell killed any comeback bid in its tracks upping the Thunder Bay advantage to five with six to play.
North Stars coach Rob DeGagne said it's important for the Superior International Junior Hockey League team to spread out the scoring.
“We have to score by committee this year. We don't have a 60-goal scorer probably, like we had last year with (Cody Bruchkowski),” DeGagne said.
“We need four or five guys to score 20 or 30 goals. And I think we have that.”
Jacob Stone made 19 stops to pick up the win in net for Thunder Bay. Vanske was victimized seven times on 47 shots to take the loss.
The two teams resume the Teleco Cup on Nov. 27 at the Norwest Arena.
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Leishman 2 (Meloche, Vecchio) 0:18 2. Kam River, Enegren 1 (Mercredi, Fortier) 5:20 pp. Penalties: Campbell TB (slashing) 3:47, Basaraba TB (cross checking) 9:42, Chisholm KR (body contact) 13:10, A. Cardinal TB (interference), Basaraba TB (holding the stick) 14:42, Swerhun KR (goaltender interference) 17:47, Tivers TB unsportsmanlike conduct) 20:00.
Scoring: 3. Thunder Bay, Leishman 3 (Campbell) 6:22 pp. 4. Thunder Bay, Vecchio 1 (Foreshew, Sangha) 9:28 pp. 5. Thunder Bay, Campbell 5 (Stubbs) 9:40 pp. 6. Thunder Bay, Vecchio 2 (Foreshew) 13:58. Penalties: Meloche TB (body contact) 3:11, Fortier KR (hooking, high sticking major, game misconduct, served by Cattani) 4:39, Foreshew TB (body contact) 14:38, Veneruzzo KR (body contact) 20:00.
Scoring: 7. Kam River, Morriseau 4 (McCollum, Veneruzzo) 5:11 pp. 8. Thunder Bay, R. Cardinal 1 (Sangha ) 7:48. 9. Thunder Bay, Campbell 6 (Stubbs, Meloche) 11:39. Penalties: Bench minor TB (too many man, served by Mizue) 4:48, Halcrow KR (spearing double minor) 17:21, Tivers TB (unsportsmanlike) 18:48,
GAME DATA – SOG – Kam River 8-8-5-21 Thunder Bay 16-17-14-47; Power plays (goals-chances) – Kam River (2-7), Thunder Bay (3-8); Goaltenders – Kam River: Eric Vanska, Thunder Bay: Jacob Stone; A: 50.