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Miners salvage weekend split against North Stars

Red Lake scores three unanswered goals to draw two points closer to front-running Thunder Bay.

THUNDER BAY – Chalk it up to a case of a goaltender's first-game nerves.

Newly acquired Dylan Kosik, playing behind a makeshift Thunder Bay North Stars blue-line that included a transplanted forward and an emergency call-up from the Thunder Bay Kings, gave up a couple of goals on Saturday night that he'd probably rather have back.

At the other end of the rink, Red Lake netminder Zach Willms was living up to his repuation as the best puck-stopper in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.

Willms made 43 stops, including 21 in a scoreless first period alone to lead the Miners to a 4-1 win at Fort William Gardens.

But more importantly, it helped Red Lake secure the weekend split on the road, leaving them five points behind the North Stars in the SIJHL standings, the same place they were before Friday night's 6-3 loss.

First-year Miners coach Geoff Walker said their approach was to put the series opener out of their minds and get back to playing fundamental hockey.

“We responded the right way. Our goaltender was great again and it was a big two points for us, and a good week overall,” said Walker, who spent 11 years in the minor pros, including time with Wilkes Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League, where he was a teammate with future Thunder Bay NHLer Robert Bortuzzo.

Sometimes you've got to be lucky to be good he added.

Carson Lux opened the scoring two minutes into the second, firing a wrist shot through traffic that soared untoched into the Thunder Bay net.

After Cody Bruchkowski tied things up at the 7:50 mark of the second, Red Lake's Skyler Tremblay lofted a high shot deep into the Thunder Bay zone. Kosik reached up for the puck, but it glanced off his glove, hit the ice and rolled into the net.

“That's a big goal of ours, to not pass up shots and get pucks to the net and traffic to the net. Those things happen. It's not like it was really the goalie's fault. You see it in the NHL, on Matt Murray last night,” said Walker, a Charlottetown, P.E.I. native.

Thunder Bay coach Rob DeGagne said he's not reading too much into Kosik's debut, acquired from Fort Frances at Friday's trade deadline.

“Maybe the second goal, for sure. He was sort of screened from the blue-line (on the first). But as a goalie, you don't wave at something over top of your head. You let it go and it will go right over the net,” DeGagne said. “That was a little unlucky the way it happened. But he was definitely nervous. You could tell before game. He just wants to make a good impression for his first game.”

The Miners made the most of their chances, especially in the third, when they only managed to fire four pucks on target, but still managed to double their output.

Noah Kwasny provided an insurance marker just past the midway point of the period, redirecting a pin-point pass from Ethan Stuckless past Kosik for a 3-1 lead. Jordan Baranesky sealed in four seconds into the final minute of regulation, banging it off the post and then into the empty North Stars net, Kosik on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.

Star gazing: Leeam Tivers, acquired at the deadline from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's OCN Blizzard, made his North Stars debut. Thunder Bay's other acquisition, Gatineau Flames forward Adam Morgan, is expected to arrive on Monday. The 6-foot-5 Morgan has been a point-a-game player with four Junior A teams this season ... The Miners picked up forward Bryce Krauter from the MJHL's Winkler Flyers.

: None. Penalties: Sangha RLM (hooking) 13:36, Gula RLM (hooking) 18:41.

: 1. Red Lake, Lux 7 (Baranesky, Howe) 2:13. 2. Thunder Bay, Bruchkowski 34 (Campbell, Mihalcin) 7:50. 3. Red Lake, Tremblay 1 (De Re[emtogny) 9:21. Penalties: Sangha RLM (hooking) 5:59, Mihalcin TB (tripping) 16:53.

: 4. Red Lake, Kwasny 5 (Stuckless, Venne) 11:02. 5. Red Lake, Baranesky 14 (unassisted) 19:04. Penalties: Tivers TB (interference) 6:23.

GAME DATASOG – Red Lake 11-11-4-26; Thunder Bay 21-8-15-44; Power plays (goals-chances) – Red Lake (0-2), Thunder Bay (0-3); Goaltenders – Red Lake: Zach Willms, Thunder Bay: Dylan Kosik; A: 355.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 17 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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