THUNDER BAY – It’s tough finding new ways to motivate the Thunder Bay North Stars.
As good a hockey team as they are, even winning 19 of 21 games to start the Superior International Junior Hockey League season, including the past nine in a row, gets old at some point.
“We just take it game by game. We’re not worried about the standings,” said rookie forward Michael Stubbs, who potted his second goal of the season in his seventh game, breaking a 1-1, second-period deadlock with the visiting Fort Frances Lakers.
“We’re not looking that we’re in first place. It’s all about taking it one night at a time, going in there, following all of the coaches’ systems and getting another win.”
Veteran forward Avery Siau, who rejoined the Stars last month after serving a 25-game suspension, said it’s tough playing the same teams over and over and finding new ways to win.
“You’ve just got to stay competitive. You’ve got to work hard,” said Siau, who picked up his first point, assisting on Jacob Antonnen’s third-period tally, which proved to be the game-winner in the North Stars 3-2 triumph.
“It is tough to stay motivated, for sure, because you just keep winning games. But it gets pretty intense out there. When something happens, the boys wake up. We’ve been having troubles with our starts lately, so we’ve got to work on that.”
Thunder Bay coach Rob DeGagne said the team’s record is great, but with opponents like the Red Lake Miners nipping at their heels in the standings, that’s motivation enough alone to keep them hungry every night.
There’s bound to be lulls, it’s just a matter of weathering them. Saturday night’s contest was a perfect example, he said.
“I didn’t think we played particularly well, especially the first two periods,” DeGagne said. “The third period we probably played our best period. We’re good. We’re solid all around. We’ve got good defence, we’ve got great goaltending, we seem to be able to get timely goals.
“But, you know what, that may end too. You’ve got to keep working and keep plugging away. It’s hard as a coach to motivate when you’re winning like this, because everybody thinks it’s never going to end.”
The Lakers (9-13-0), have dropped all five meetings between the two teams this season, but two of the losses were one-goal games and two more were two-goal defeats.
They played them tough again on Saturday night at Fort William Gardens.
Joel Willan opened the scoring for Thunder Bay at 5:59 of the first, but Kirk Coppcok evened things up with three minutes to go in the period, beating Dougie Newhouse in the North Stars net.
Stubbs scored the lone goal of the second, taking a pass from Siau and banging it past the Lakers Jacob Gridziejko.
“I saw him out of the corner of my eye and I haven’t gotten anything my first two games, so I just said screw it, I’ll throw it there. It landed on his stick and he put it in the net,” Siau said.
Jacob Anttonen went top shelf on the backhand three minutes into the third to extend the North Stars lead to 3-1.
The Lakers kept pressing and closed to within a goal with 63 seconds to go in regulation, Jaedin Ness pouncing on a loose puck near Newhouse’s skates and shoveling it into the net. Lakers coach Wayne Strachan lifted Gridziejko in the final 40 seconds, but they couldn’t get the equalizer, losing their fifth straight game.
The Lakers head to Thief River Falls on Wednesday, while the North Stars next see action on Saturday at home against the Minnesota Iron Rangers.
Star gazing: DeGagne continues to tinker with his lineup. The Stars cut forward Alec Maticic and dealt Keon Fox to the Lakers. They acquired centre Jacob Brown from the Portage Terriers. He’s got 11 goals in 25 Manitoba Junior Hockey League games. They also added Thunder Bay forward Jayden Mrakic, who last played with Ohio’s Gilmour Academy.
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Willan 13 (Gerrie, Auger) 5:59. 2. Fort Frances, Coppock 9 (Ness) 16:59. Penalties: Ness FF (high sticking) 4:14.
Scoring: 3. Thunder Bay, Stubbs (Siau, Brassard) 1:01. Penalties: Anttonen TB (roughing), Bryant TB (cross checking), B. Hahkala FF (unsportsmanlike conduct) 1:49, Halashak TB (slashing) 6:34, B. Erwin TB (cross checking) 15:20, Mignault TB (tripping) 18:12.
Scoring: 4. Thunder Bay, Anttonen 9 (Halushak) 3:03. 5. Fort Frances, Ness 8 (Loveday) 18:57, Penalties: N. Hahkala FF (boarding) 3:25, B. Hahkala FF (slashing) 4:31, Siau TB (roughing) 6:05.
GAME DATA – SOG – Fort Frances 7-15-8-30, Thunder Bay 17-10-13-40; Power plays (goals-chances) – Fort Frances (0-5), Thunder Bay (0-2); Goaltenders – Fort Frances: Jacob Gridziejko, Thunder Bay: Dougie Newhouse; A: 326.