THUNDER BAY – This time last fall, Logan Mihalcin was sitting on the sidelines, nursing a hip injury back to health and wondering when he’d be back on the ice.
A year later, thanks to a two-helper night against the visiting Wisconsin Lumberjacks, the Thunder Bay North Stars captain is tied for the Superior International Junior Hockey League lead with nine assists in nine games, on a team that has won six straight and is alone atop the six-team standings.
It wasn’t easy, he said.
“It’s awesome being here from the start,” said Mihalcin, who had 10 points in 10 games last season, returning to the team after the Christmas break.
“Last year was not fun for me. I hated watching the boys – well, I loved it – but it sucked sitting up in the stands. I just wanted to be out there every day, but I couldn’t. I practised for about four months and I finally got out there. But starting off the season with the boys, it means a lot to me.”
Being able to contribute at both ends of the ice is fantastic, the 20-year-old said.
“It makes me feel good. I’m just trying to play my game. I give it to the forwards and they do their job, they put the puck in the net,” said Mihalcin, who lists his intensity as the best quality he brings to the North Stars, on and off the ice.
“And my defensive game, first off; I worry about the defensive first and then the offence just comes by luck, I guess.
Coach Rob DeGagne said it was tough watching Mihalcin struggle through his injury last season.
“There would be games when he couldn’t walk after games because he’d have bone on bone in his hip. He had surgery on both sides. Last year he didn’t play much at the start of the season … and when you don’t play at the beginning of the season it’s hard to come in and keep up the pace,” DeGagne said.
“He’s a leader on our team. He works hard, he logs more ice time than everybody we have on our team. He makes a lot of good defensive plays. He contributes on the power play for us. One thing about Logan, you know what you get. He works like a dog.”
Mihalcin picked up his first assist of the contest in the second at a crucial juncture of the Stars 6-2 win over the Lumberjacks, dishing the puck ahead to Jacob Brown, sending him in alone on Wisconsin goaltender Nathan Mueller.
The ensuing goal, Brown’s second of the night and sixth of the season, gave Thunder Bay a 3-1 lead 4:29 into the third, coming less than three minutes after Wisconsin’s Tyler Shetland broke Seth McKay’s shutout bid in his North Stars debut between the pipes.
Thunder Bay (8-1-0) took the two-goal lead into the third and Cody Bruchkowski added to it with the home side’s second of three power play goals on the night, upping his point streak to six games in the process. Joel Willan scored back-to-back goals three minutes apart, the second coming shorthanded, after he blocked a shot at his own blue-line and walked in alone on Mueller.
Joel Matthews rounded out the scoring for Wisconsn (2-6-1) with six minutes to go.
Mueller made 46 saves on 52 shots, while McKay stopped 34 of 36 shots he faced to pick up the win.
“He had a really good junior B final last year and he played good for us tonight,” DeGagne said. “He didn’t look shaky, he looked solid, so it’s nice to know you’ve got two goaltender who can go out on any given night and win a game for you.”
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Basaraba 2 (Vecchio) 3:14. 2. Thunder Bay, Brown 5 (Young, Willan) 13:08. Penalties: Anttonen TB (hooking) 5:07, Matthews WIS (tripping) 8:56, Foldesi WI (hooking) 15:29.
Scoring: 3. Wisconsin, Shetland (Green, Brakebill) 1:40 pp. 4. Thunder Bay, Brown 6 (Mihalcin) 4:29 pp. Penalties: Bruchkowski TB (tripping) 1:29, Jones WIS (interference) 3:15, Garcia WIS (holding) 6:03, Mrakic TB (slashing) 10:22, Wolf WIS (slashing) 13:49, Basaraba TB (elbowing) 17:53, Brown TB (high sticking) 18:26.
Scoring: 5. Thunder Bay, Bruchkowski 6 (Anttonen) 4:20 pp. 6. Thunder Bay, Willan 6 (Mihalcin) 10:26 pp. 7. Thunder Bay, Willan 7 (unassisted) 13:26 sh. 8. Wisconsin, Matthews (Moreland) 13:51 pp. Penalties: Montoya WIS (tripping) 2:58, Mihalcin TB (roughing) 6:59, Garcia WIS (high sticking) 8:39, Anttonen TB (interference) 11:55, Shykes WIS (tripping) 16:27.
GAME DATA – SOG – Wisconsin 17-8-11-36, Thunder Bay 17-21-14-52; Power plays (goals-chances) – Wisconsin (2-7), Thunder Bay (3-8); Goaltenders – Wisconsin: Nathan Mueller, Thunder Bay: Seth McKay; A: 188.