Dog days coming

The business of prognostication is risky at the best of times—a point that will become crystal clear when I attempt my NHL playoff predictions next week.
But the best-of-seven SIJHL final, which kicked off last night at the Ice for Kids Arena here, presents a unique intangible that centres around priorities and pain-killers.
Figuring out which is the better team between the Borderland Thunder and the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs is an inexact science, at best.
The facts seem to lean in favour of the purple and white:
•The Thunder won the season series, though only by a slim 6-5-1 margin;
•Borderland finished four points ahead of Thunder Bay for top spot in the SIJHL regular season; and
•the local side has good potential to make the most of their home ice advantage in the series, holding a 4-1-1 record at the Ice for Kids Arena against the Bulldogs this season.
But a closer look at the match-up makes it clear the canine crew may get the last howl in the end.
As strong as Thunder goalie Dan Hoehne has been this season, Thunder Bay’s main masked man, Bill Gerry, arguably has been better. The Bulldogs’ netminder has lost only five times in 21 appearances since joining the squad midway through the season, and has had the best save percentage of any SIJHL goalie during that time.
Thunder Bay also boasts the hottest offensive trio in the league in Trevor Karasiewicz, Brian Dzijak, and Rylan Vesa.
Karasiewicz led the SIJHL with 103 points in the regular season. Vesa finished fourth overall while Dzijak, who was tops in the league in goal scoring (43), was fifth.
The threesome also have kept up their torrid scoring pace so far in the playoffs. Karasiewicz and Dzijak each had 11 points in the Bulldogs’ five-game semi-final victory over the Fort William First Nation Wolves, with Dzijak leading the playoff goal-scoring race with seven.
Vesa is third in post-season points with nine, while no Thunder scorer has more than five.
There’s also the question of health. Thunder defencemen David Lloyd and Clayton Windigo, along with captain Josh Baxter, are on the mend from a variety of injuries that may keep them out of the final, or at the very least limit their efficiency.
The Bulldogs virtually have all hands on deck, and over a long series could have the upper hand on a Thunder squad that will have to count on several first-year players to step up in the absence of the regulars.
It all boils down to who considers winning their organization’s first SIJHL title more important, with a bigger bauble to be fought for in three weeks’ time—namely, the Dudley Hewitt Cup and a berth in the Royal Bank Cup national championship in May.
The Thunder still carry the sting of last year’s sweep in the final to Dryden. But I can’t help but think that, if push comes to shove in this series, the Thunder will reserve their energies for the provincial championship.
And without bringing their best game, they won’t be able to stop the explosive Bulldogs.
Thunder Bay in six. Oh, but I won’t mind being proved wrong.
• • •
A belated thumbs-up to the Fort Frances Causeway Cougars, whom I overlooked in last week’s story about the Kenora Atom ‘A’ hockey tournament March 14-15.
A phone call from a sharp-eyed parent informed me that the Cougars, and not the Fort Frances Green’s Countrywide Predators as I had reported, actually had been the local team to reach the ‘A’ final of the tournament.
Wayne Roy’s troops went 3-1-1 in the event, with their only loss coming in a 4-3 defeat by Kenora Petro-Canada in the final.
The team also had a 3-3 tie against the Norcom Lynx (Kenora), a 2-1 win over Red Lake, and a 3-0 shutout of Interior Deco (Kenora) before downing Kenora Red Esso 3-2 in the semi-finals.
Just a reminder for all coaches out there: it’s important that you get me all your tournament information as soon as you possibly can, be it from yourselves or through a parent of one of your competitors, if you want to get your individual athlete or team the recognition they deserve.
That way, everybody comes out a winner.
• • •
In other house-cleaning matters, some of you may have noticed a lack of a wrap-up story regarding the Muskie cheerleading squad’s competitive season and their planned trip to the regional championship Feb. 23 in Thunder Bay.
Unfortunately, it was a trip that never came to pass for the local spirit squad after one member was removed from the team due to academic reasons.
Because the cheer team needed a specific number of performers to do their pre-determined routines at the regionals, the shortage of available bodies forced them to withdraw from the event.
It was a difficult end to a difficult season for a group that had a constantly rotating cast which made it a real struggle to have any kind of continuity as a unit.
Here’s hoping coach Mandi Monteith and her team rebound loudly and proudly next year.
• • •
Great news for local snowmobile and stock car racer Steve Arpin, whose injury woes finally are taking a turn for the better.
A re-occurring back injury cut Arpin’s ice oval racing season short Dec. 29 at the second World Snowmobiling Association event of the year at Roseau, Mn.
His condition was so serious that he faced the prospect of back surgery later this spring, which may have brought an end to his racing days.
But Arpin was in much better spirits last Wednesday as he proclaimed to be near full health again after intensive physiotherapy sessions over the past few months.
The progress has been significant enough, in fact, that he also announced he would be ready to take part in the northern Minnesota auto racing circuit, with the first event scheduled for next Thursday.
If you are planning any sporting events, or have some sports-related information or scores, feel free to call me at 274-5373 ext. 237 or by e-mail at jpayeur@fortfrances.com

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