THUNDER BAY – Until they’re dethroned, the Thunder Bay North Stars are looking at the Dryden Ice Dogs as nothing less than champions.
After all, it’s the Ice Dogs that have handed the North Stars two of their four losses over Thunder Bay’s first 38 games of the Superior International Junior Hockey League season.
And it was the Ice Dogs who struck first on Friday night and gave their hosts all they could ask for in a possible semifinal preview.
But it was Kyle Auger’s milestone 20th goal of the season that proved to be the difference in the North Stars 4-3 triumph, their 13th straight win.
“If it was the playoffs tomorrow, we’d be playing them in the first round,” said Auger, whose 71 points leave him in second place in the SIJHL scoring race.
“With this team, we’ve got to intimidate them, especially here. We want them to have the least amount of confidence as possible coming in here, when playoff time comes around. These are big games. They’re a tough team. They’re not a fourth-place team.”
First-line forward Jacob Brown said the Ice Dogs are the team that probably matches up best against the North Stars.
Despite a 6-1-1 record against them this season, they’re taking nothing for granted when the two teams tangle.
“We’ve just got to keep an eye on them,” said Brown, who got the North Stars on the board at 13:25 of the second, tying the game 1-1 at the time.
North Stars coach Rob DeGagne said the Ice Dogs command respect throughout the SIJHL, and for good reason.
“We’ve got to beat them all the time because if you give them a little bit of life, it’s amazing how far it goes,” the second-year coach said.
“They’re still the champs. Until someone knocks them off, they’re still the champs. We’ve got to come out, we’ve got to treat them that way and we’ve got to beat them now. We’ve got to beat them in Dryden, we’ve got to beat them as much as we can beat them and give them as little confidence as they can get.”
Playing in front of 390 fans at Fort William Gardens, the North Stars got off to a slow start. Jacob Siebenga scored his first of two just past the midway point of the first on Thunder Bay goaltender Dougie Newhouse, who wound up stopping 33 of 36 Ice Dogs shots on the night.
But Brown ensured the lead was short-lived, beating Jordan Wilde less than three minutes later.
“We got the puck deep and Joel Willan was working hard in the corner. He got it out to Keighan Gerrie and he put it off the pad. I just got the rebound in,” said Brown, who started 2018-19 with Portage of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League before being dealt mid-season.
Michael Vecchio pushed the North Stars in front with 1:12 to go in the period, the first of two penalty-free sessions.
Siebenga evened the score at 17:22 of the second, taking a pass from Cameron Coutre and rifling it high over Newhouse’s shoulder. But Michael Stubbs restored the Thunder Bay lead for good just 46 seconds later and now has goals in 11 of his past 12 outings.
Auger, essentially a fourth forward, said not too many defencemen in the league play like him. But, he added, anyone could have pounded home the pass he got from Gerrie, leaving him a wide-open net to shoot at.
“I like to get goals when I do it myself,” Auger said, “but when I get gifts like that, it’s pretty nice.”
Curtis Magas pulled the Ice Dogs to within one on the power play at 10:20 of the third, but Newhouse stood tall the rest of the way to secure the win.
The Stars and Ice Dogs (19-16-4) meet again on Saturday night at the Gardens. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.
Scoring: 1. Dryden, Siebenga 15 (Bassi, Magas) 10:38. 2. Thunder Bay, Brown 11 (Gerrie) 13:25. 3. Thunder Bay, Vecchio 8 (A. Erwin, Kilby) 18:48. Penalties: None.
Scoring: 4. Dryden, Siebenga 16 (Coutre, Browning) 17:22. 5. Thunder Bay, Stubbs 16 (Mignault, Gillis) 18:08. Penalties: None.
SCORING: 6. Thunder Bay, Auger 20 (Gerrie) 5:51. 7. Dryden, Magas 5 (Brandt, Palermo) 10:20 pp. Penalties: Coutre DRY, Halushak TB (high sticking) 1:38, Nicholas TB (routhing), Fortin TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), Winsor DRY (roughing), Huemmert DRY (roughing, misconduct) 2:42, Brassard TB (holding) 7:35, Halushak TB (cross checking) 9:41, Coutre DRY (roughing) 10:47,
GAME DATA – SOG – Dryden 13-12-11-36, Thunder Bay 14-12-10-36: Power plays (goals-chances) – Dryden (1-2), Thunder Bay (0-1); Goaltenders – Dryden: Jordan Wilde, Thunder Bay: Dougie Newhouse; A: 390.