Ice Dogs are Thunderstruck

The Borderland Thunder certainly wouldn’t object to winning their first SIJHL crown, but it’s not like it’s life or death for their season whether or not they do.
As hosts of the Dudley Hewitt Cup provincial Junior ‘A’ hockey championship April 22-26, the Thunder already are assured a berth in the all-Ontario showdown—regardless of how they fare in the SIJHL post-season.
So it would have been easy for them to come into Games 1 and 2 of last weekend’s best-of-seven semi-final series resting on the laurels of their first-place regular-season finish—and winding up like Puppy Chow on the menu of the defending league champion Dryden Ice Dogs.
But after the canine crew picked their bones clean during a 4-0 sweep in last year’s SIJHL final, the matter of revenge obviously weighed heavy on the Thunder’s collective conscience.
Pouncing upon a lacklustre Dryden squad in the opener Friday night, Borderland built a 3-0 on goals from a player who spent most of the year competing at the high school level (Ryan Kramer of the International Falls Broncos); a player who was shown the door at the Jan. 10 signing deadline and then brought back into the fold for the playoff drive (Rob Scales); and a skilled local phenom who spent three-quarters of the season trying to come back from a rotator cuff injury (Aaron Grynol).
Dan Hoehne’s shutout performance had to send a sigh of relief through head coach Dave Allison, who has seen a carousel of masked men (six in total) come through the locker-room door this season.
Game 2 was ripe with built-in excuses for the Thunder. Five regulars out of the line-up. The aforementioned Hewitt Cup spot in their hip pocket. A 3-1 second-period deficit.
Packing it in for the night would have been exceptionally easy.
But this Thunder team, which was on the wrong end of the scoreboard only 12 times in 52 games this season, proved they hardly qualify as easy pickings.
A power-play goal and a scintillating rush by Kurt (Blue Streak) Hogard, he of the aqua-coloured hairdo created especially for the playoffs, suddenly had the Thunder back on even terms.
After Grynol’s conversion of a fortuitous bounce for the eventual game-winner, and a Kevin Webb insurance marker in the third, suddenly the Ice Dogs were heading home with their tails between their legs.
It’s certainly not a fait accompli yet for the Thunder. They have been unsuccessful in their last two trips to the Dryden Recreation Centre—and the boisterous Ice Dogs supporters certainly will be out in full force this Friday and Saturday night to try and re-energize their hometown warriors.
But with some injured performers expected to return for Game 3, and with the knowledge they have lost only four of 14 games to Dryden this season, the Thunder certainly believe a trip to the SIJHL final is firmly within their grasp.
• • •
The Thunder’s king of the cage last season recently became the toast of the town in his adopted North Dakota home.
Rob Hrabec led the MSU-Bottineau Lumberjacks to the NJCAA Division I national hockey championship earlier this month, making 36 saves to blank the host SUNY-Morrisville Mustangs 1-0 in the final.
The Lumberjacks were under siege for most of the game, having to kill off 10 Mustangs’ power plays while only getting one of their own. But Hrabec held up his end of the bargain so well, he was named the tournament MVP for his performance.
• • •
The junior curling program in Nestor Falls has received a much-needed shot in the arm thanks to the generous efforts of several individuals and businesses whose contributions allowed for the purchase of special “mini-rocks.”
On top of donations from the Nestor Falls School Council, the Nestor Falls Curling Club, and a number of Fort Frances-area businesses, Standard Insurance pitched in $500.
Standard employee Shelly McCool dipped into her own pocket for another $500, as did Louise and Ed Showalter.
• • •
A sizable contingent of Fort Frances student-athletes once again have done their part to dispel the misconception that sports and academics don’t mix.
A host of Muskie competitors made the honour roll at the end of the first semester. Several more students who compete as individuals or on teams outside of the school domain also made the grade.
When I went to high school, most of my fellow graduates who were accomplished athletes fell into the stereotypical category of those who chose to major in physical education in college because they figured all they had to do to earn their degrees was shoot hoops, spike volleyballs, and run laps.
But the student-athletes of today know there’s much more to earning a physical education degree than showing how fast you can cover the 100m dash. And they not only have aspirations in the athletic fields, but in the arts, sciences, and other areas, too.
While the school system takes its share of knocks from society, there’s no questioning many student-athletes aren’t just trying to earn letters to put on their team jackets these days.
They’re also interested in earning letters on their report cards—like the letter ‘A.’
• • •
The good times keep rolling for Couchiching judoist Jared Catholique-Bruyere.
Fresh off his gold- and silver-medal performance at the Canada Winter Games in Bathurst-Campbellton, N.B. two weeks ago, the 16-year-old continued his season-long undefeated streak by winning the Juvenile Men’s 73+ kg division at the Selkirk Open in Manitoba last weekend.
Competing in what was only a two-person category, Catholique-Bruyere needed only to defeat John McNabb of Stonewall, Man. to capture the title.
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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