THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay North Stars overcame a slow start against a road-weary opponent on Friday night, scoring six straight goals to erase an early 2-0 deficit and double up a Red Lake Miners looking to close the gap between the top two teams in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
Hunter Foreshew, Jacob Brown and Joel Willian scored goals in a 5:35 span to close out the opening period at Fort William Gardens and the Stars added two more in the second to stretch their lead to three after 40 minutes.
The two teams, who combined for 19 power-play opportunities, traded goals in the third as the North Stars cruised to a 6-3 win in the first of back-to-back meetings between the defending SIJHL finalists this weekend.
“Once we were in that little bit of a hole we realized we had to turn it around pretty quick and figure something out before the first was up,” said veteran forward Ben Erwin, who finished with a goal and and assist on the night, giving him three goals in his past four games, after tallying just once in his previous eight.
“The way we answered was pretty good and we've just got to keep it going tomorrow.”
The shaky start was not the way the Stars wanted to introduce Seth McKay into his expanded role, two days after No. 1 goaltender Jordan Smith was lost for an indefinite period, possibly season-ending, after injuring his knee in Wednesday's win over Wisconsin.
“You've got to give him a lot of credit,” said Thunder Bay coach Rob DeGagne. “Because he hasn't played a lot of hockey this year yet. He was injured before Christmas, he hurt his ankle.”
McKay surrendered goals to Ryan Howe and Ethan Stuckless in the first, the latter taking the puck and the side boards, cutting across the middle and lifting a backhand off the Thunder Bay goaltender at 12:37, the Miners jumping in front 2-0.
To make up for Smith's extended absence, the North Stars picked up goaltender Dylan Kosik from the Fort Frances Lakers at the SIJHL trade deadline Friday. Kosik is 5-4-0 this season with a 3.91 goals against average.
Thunder Bay also added a pair of forwards, including Leeam Tivers from the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The North Stars, up two in the second after Alex Erwin slipped it past Miners goaltender Zach Willms, were afforded a full two-minute two-man advantage later in the period and despite several point-blank chances, couldn't buy an insurance marker.
Willms' luck ran out in the final minute of the second, when league-leading scorer Cody Bruchkowski was set free on a breakway on a long pass up the middle by Nikolas Campbell, his 33rd goal of the season giving Thunder Bay a 5-2 lead.
Cody Levesque took over in nets for Red Lake in the third and stopped 18 of 19 shots, Ben Erwin catching him going the wrong way on the power play. Noah Kwasny wrapped up the scoring, the Miners up a man, with five minutes to go.
The game was delayed half-an-hour as the Miners were stuck on the Trans-Canada Highway on Friday, waiting for police to open the road after a transport collision that killed three.
Red Lake's Dallen Bulger and Thunder Bay's Kyler Basaraba were tosssed for fighting in the second. The Miners lost Tucker Evans for the night in the first for a check from behind and Keilan Toews was tossed in the second for shouting at the on-ice officials from the penalty box.
The first-place Stars opened a seven-point lead over Red Lake with the win, improving to 22-8-3. The Miners dropped to 18-10-4.
Scoring: 1. Red Lake, Howe 12 (Sommerfeld, Lux) 3:19 pp. 2. Red Lake, Stuckless 13 (Venne, Howe) 12:37. 3. Thunder Bay, Foreshew 7 (Campbell, Willan) 13:14. 4. Thunder Bay, Brown 22 (B. Erwin) 13:43. 5. Thunder Bay, Willan 12 (Leishman, Bruchkowski) 18:49 pp. Penalties: Brown TB (slashing) 2:43, Toews RLM (slashing) 5:12, Pitawanakwat RLM (cross checking) 9:10, Nicholas TB (interference) 10:27, Evans RLM (check from behind, game misconduct) 18:07.
Scoring: 6. Thunder Bay, A. Erwin (Fortin, Bruchkowski) 7:35 pp. 7. Thunder Bay, Bruchkowski 33 (Campbell, Mihalcin) 19:33. Penalties: Bench minor TB (too many men, served by Bruchkowski), Milne RLM (hooking), Venne RLM (unsportsmanlike conduct) 4:32, Toews RLM (cross checking, misconduct, game misconduct) 4:59, Bruchkowski TB (interference) 5:26, Vecchio TB (hooking) 8:06, Lux RLM (interference) 8:56, Walsh RLM (high sticking double minor) 12:01, Lux RLM (cross checking) 12:12, Pitawanakwat RLM (cross checking) 16:05, B. Erwin TB (slashing) 17:07.
Scoring: 8. Thunder Bay, B. Erwin 9 (Foreshew, Fortin) 5:51 pp. 9. Red Lake, Kwasny (Sommerfeld, Struckless) 14:46 pp. Penalties: Bulger RLM (roughing, fighting major, game misconduct), Basaraba TB (fighting major, game misconduct) 4:25, Leishman TB (hooking) 13:24, Howe RLM (tripping) 17:28.
GAME DATA – SOG – Red Lauke 9-17-11-37; Thunder Bay 13-17-19-49; Power plays (goals-chances) – Red Lake (2-7), Thunder Bay (2-12); Goaltenders – Red Lake – Zach Willms (30 shots, 25 saves), Cody Levesque (0:00, third), Thunder Bay: Seth McKay; A: 338.