OLIVER PAIPOONGE – The return of Matt Halushak and Michael Stubbs paid immediate dividends for the Thunder Bay North Stars.
The duo, who re-signed with the Superior International Junior Hockey League team after spending last season in the Ontario Hockey League, each contributed the North Stars third straight Teleco Cup win on Friday night.
Stubbs scored the go-ahead goal in the first to put the Stars up 3-2 at the time and Halushak grabbed an assist on the opening goal of Thunder Bay's 6-4 win over the host Kam River Fighting Walleye.
The 18-year-old Stubbs, a 25-goal scorer as a rookie in 2018-19, said he was eager to be a top contributor on offence again, after scoring just four times last season in 40 games with the OHL's Missisauga Steelheads.
Moreso, he's just glad to be back on the ice again.
“It's about going to the rink every day and doing the same things. It doesn't matter if I'm playing down in Missisauga or playing here, it's working through the week, getting the reps that we need and then coming into a weekend and hoping to get four points,” said Stubbs.
Halushak, who played 26 games last season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, said it was an easy decision to return to the Stars.
The OHL is shut down indefinitely and it was a chance to get into some meaningful competition.
“I can just get confidence with the puck and get my offensive game going,” said the 18-year-old blue-liner, who earned just two assists with the Greyhounds.
“It's just nice to be back here.”
Thunder Bay coach Rob DeGagne said he spent most of the week trying to secure the two players, whose junior A rights were still held by the North Stars.
“We thought we would see if they wanted to play, first of all. And they both wanted to play bad because they haven't played in a long time. Then we talked to the Greyhounds and Mississauga and they were really good with it. They wanted them to play because they wanted the kids to get time.”
How long they're witt the North Stars remains to be seen.
Should the OHL restart, both plan to return to their respective clubs. For now they'll take things one game at a time, looking to help the Stars get set for a possible start to the 2020-21 campaign.
Their debut proved to be a back-and forth affair.
Nikolas Campbell opened the scoring at 7:23 of the opening period, the first of four power play goals the North Stars would score on the night.
Former Star Robert Tyska only needed 45 seconds to put the puck past Jordan Smith to tie the game, but within a minute Jett Leishman had Thunder Bay in front again, beating Fighting Walleye goaltneder Austin Madge. Just like that, Trenton Morriseau tied it again, lifting a weak shot that fooled Smith, the goal coming 57 seconds after Leishman's go-ahead tally. That's just how long Stubbs needed to give the North Stars their third lead of the night and Thunder Bay led 3-2 after one.
It lasted all of four minutes.
Keaton Mercredi tied things up again early in the second, burying a cross-crease pass from Carson Gorst, but three minutes later Leeam Tivers redirected an Evan Beaulne shot past Madge as Thunder Bay took the lead for good. Austin Cardinal stretched the lead to two, but Morriseau only needed 53 seconds after the break to make it 5-4, firing a high wrist shot that Smith couldn't handle.
Jacob Anttonen and Tiverrs added third-period goals to put the game out of reach.
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Campbell 4 (Leishman, Halushak) 7:23 pp. 2. Kam River, Tyska (Goodman, Gorst) 8:08. 3. Thunder Bay, Leishman (Foreshew, Vecchio) 9:01. 4. Kam River, Morriseau (Enegren) 9:58. 5. Thunder Bay, Stubbs 1 (Anttonen) 10:51 pp.Penalties: Fortier KR (tripping) 2:19, Chisholm KR (hooking) 7:11, Couvier KR (roughing) 10:57, Foreshew TB (holding) 14:36, Sangha TB (body contact) 15:32,
Scoring: 6. Kam River, Mercredi (Enegren, Fortier) 3:58 pp. 7. Thunder Bay, Tivers (Beaulne) 7:29. 8. A. Cardinal (M izue, R. Cardinal) 10:30. Penalties: A. Cardinal TB (tripping) 2:51, Anttonen TB (goaltender interference) 16:40.
Scoring: 9. Kam River, Morriseau (Mercredi, Enegren) 0:53.10, Thunder Bay, Anttonen (Sangha, Leishman) 8:07. 11. Thunder Bay, Tivers (R. Cardinal) 18:33. Penalties: Chisholm KR (cross checking). Leishman TB (roughing) 4:50, Fortier KR (interference) 7:42, Anttonen TB, Couvier KR (roughing) 10:56, Cataldo KR (roughing), Meloche TB (roughing), A. Cardinal TB (unsportsmanlike conduct) 12:40, Halcrow KR (spearing double minor) 15:24, Sangha TB (high sticking), Couvier KR () 19:23.
GAME DATA – SOG – Thunder Bay 14-12-14-40, Kam River 11-12-7-30; Power plays (goals-chances) – Thunder Bay (4-5), Kam River (1-5); Goaltenders – Thunder Bay: Jordan Smith, Kam River: Austin Madge; A: 50.