Saturday, August 1, 2015

Fort factor helps Thistles at Allan Cup

Tyler Miller was curious to know how things might have turned out without the Dundas Real McCoys’ personalized episode of “Extreme Makeover: Roster Edition.”
The Fort Frances resident was part of the Kenora Thistles’ squad at the 2014 Allan Cup national senior men’s hockey tournament, which made it to the semi-finals before being blanked 4-0 by host Dundas on Good Friday.

Miller couldn’t help but notice the team-wide overhaul done before the tournament by the Real McCoys, who went on to win the championship with a 3-2 overtime win against the Clarenville (NL) Caribous.
“That was the Allan Cup edition of the team, for sure,” Miller said about Dundas, which he claimed played with a much different group for most of the winter.
“Suddenly, they’ve got three or four former NHL guys [seven actually were listed on the Dundas roster],” he noted.
“And they’re all pretty huge guys and strong on the puck.
“But I still felt pretty confident when we played them,” Miller added.
“The only difference was they scored on their chances and we didn’t, which was pretty much the story the whole tournament.”
Jason Ward, who played forward for the N.Y. Rangers, L.A. Kings, and Tampa Bay Lightning, was a one-man wrecking crew in the semi-final for Dundas with a four-point outing.
He scored the first goal of the game at 10:54 of the second, then assisted on back-to-back goals by former Dallas Stars’ and Calgary Flames’ prospect Ryan Christie late in the second and early in the third.
Ward capped his evening by setting up Simon Mangos with 4:59 to go.
Mike Mole made 28 saves to record the shutout while Ryan Person took the loss with 25 stops.
Miller was one of a quartet of Thistles who had ties to Fort Frances.
Defenceman Dan MacIntyre, who now lives in B.C., is a local product while goalie Tyler Gordon of Hudson played with the Borderland Thunder here back in 2004-05.
MacIntyre chalked up one assist during the tourney while Gordon lost 5-2 to Clarenville in his only start.
The team’s No. 3 goalie, former Muskie Cody Wood from Atikokan, did not see any action.
Kenora received an automatic bid in the six-team tournament field because Quebec did not enter a team, thus negating the need for the Thistles to compete in a play-in game.
The Northwestern Ontario crew opened the tourney with a tough 5-4 loss to the Brantford Blast—surrendering a 4-1 first-period lead before the end of that frame, then giving up a fourth unanswered goal for the game-winner.
Miller had the honour of scoring the Thistles’ first goal of the tourney at 2:32 of the first.
“There was a scrum in front, and I fished it out and then put it in the net,” recalled Miller, whose goal mistakenly was credited to linemate Rob Lawrence.
“That was happening the whole tournament,” he remarked. “Either the referees or the scorekeepers would get it wrong.”
The loss to the Caribous left Kenora in last place in the three-team Division One.
But that turned out to be a blessing as the Thistles drew the South East Prairie Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.
The Thunder finished second in Division Two with a 1-1 mark, but Sean McAslan’s tally at 13:57 of the third lifted Kenora to a 3-2 victory.
“We had played the Thunder in a two-game series in January or February and we beat them both games,” noted Miller, a first-year Thistle who enjoyed the week overall.
“It makes you miss the game of hockey after . . . years of not playing this competitively,” he said.
“It’s a real pro-style lifestyle during the week of the tournament.
“Playing alongside guys who have played in the [American Hockey League] or [East Coast Hockey League], I really learned a lot,” he added.
Miller already is looking forward to a return with the Thistles to the 2015 Allan Cup, which will take place in Clarenville.
“We’ll probably have to play against Dundas or some other team from southern Ontario to get in it,” Miller said.
“But the team’s getting better and better . . . [and] hopefully Dundas doesn’t stack their team again.”

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