OLIVER PAIPOONGE – The Kam River Fighting Walleye are determined to keep losing streaks to the bare minimum.
In fact, they’ve pledged not to lose two in a row in 2023-24.
That put a lot of pressure on rookie goaltender Travis Vanderzwaag on Saturday night, his team coming off a 6-3 home-ice defeat at the hands of the Red Lake Miners.
He passed his first big test with glowing colours.
Vanderzwaag made 35 saves, including a pair of breakaway chances late in the third, leading the defending Superior International Junior Hockey League champions to a 4-3 win over the Miners at the Norwest Arena, evening their early-season record at 1-1-0.
The 16-year-old Thunder Bay Kings graduate said he took the pressure in stride.
“I was just thinking it’s for the team and we’ve got to win. We can’t go 0-2 at home for the home opener,” said Vanderzwaag, his team celebrating last year’s Bill Salonen Cup win with a banner raising at the far end of the Norwest Arena.
“We had to come out and show our best and we had to get the win.”
He would like to see the team clear up some of the chances they’re giving the opposition.
Vanderzwaag turned away Red Lake’s Landon van Engelen, who fired a quick shot from the slot that the Walleye netminder snagged in his glove. Three minutes later, his team leading 4-2, Vanderzwaag stoned Carter Deschamps after he picked Kam River forward Ryan Doucette’s pocket and raced down the ice with no one to beat but the Kam River goaltender.
Captain Jeremy Dunmore was impressed with his effort on the second chance.
“There was a couple of times on the bench where everyone’s heart kind of dropped and we went silent. But when Trav made that save all the boys were screaming. That was huge and I think that gave us the motivation to get that one done,” Dunmore said.
First-year coach Jesse Messier said the Miners may have caught his players off guard this weekend, but it’s something they’ll work on down the road.
“We’ll be looking to tighten that up. They’re a team that’s looking to blow the zone quite often and we got caught on it. But again, (Travis) made those big saves when we needed them,” Messier said.
Red Lake captain Luke DeCorby was the first to light the lamp, beating Vanderzwaag just 58 seconds into the second period, the two teams having played a scoreless first.
Brydon Bell evened things up at 8:19 and five minutes later Dunmore potted his first of the season, skating in from the top of the circle and blasting it past Red Lake goaltender Trent Boryszczuk, making his second start in as many nights.
Kyle Schechtel evened the score with an unassisted tally at the 13:16 mark of the second, but the Walleye would regain the lead before the period came to a close, Chicago’s Edwin Liang scoring with 1:57 to play in the period, sending Kam River to the break with a 3-2 lead.
Creegan Tomkins doubled the Fighting Walleye advantage 8:15 into, picking up a loose puck and burying it past Boryszczuk.
The Miners fought back to within one, Noah Tenney scoring for the second straight night, but with their goaltender on the bench for the final 30 seconds, Red Lake failed to net the equalizer and both teams fell to 1-1-0 on the season.
Kam River outshot the Miners 43 to 38.
Sioux Lookout 5, Thunder Bay 4: Owen Riffel scored three times, including the game-winner with 4:07 to play, leading the Bombers to a second straight win. Edison Weeks had a goal and two assists for the North Stars.