As his junior ‘A’ hockey career comes to a close, Fort Frances native Brandon Bodnar can’t help but look back fondly on all of his experiences.
Making his third-career appearance at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. ‘A’ Championship last week in Dryden, the 20-year-old backstopped the Thunder Bay North Stars to a semi-final showdown with the Wellington Dukes (OJHL) on Friday night.
Although a 6-3 loss left them short of advancing to face the host Dryden GM Ice Dogs in the final the following night, Bodnar relished the opportunity his team had.
“It was an incredible experience and it just proves that we could play with the best of the best,” he remarked.
“Going into the tournament, I knew there was the possibility that it’d be my last couple of games of junior, so I just wanted to have as much fun as I could and just stay in the moment,” he added.
“I have learned so much through my three times at the DHC, and they’re all memories that I will have forever.”
The North Stars opened the tournament, which pitted them against the SIJHL champion Ice Dogs, the NOJHL champion Cochrane Crunch, and the OJHL champion Dukes, with a 4-0 shutout of the Crunch last Tuesday.
Bodnar was sharp in turning aside all 27 shots he faced.
But it was a different story Wednesday as Wellington used three first-period goals to earn a 4-1 victory, with Bodnar being replaced in goal by Dougie Newhouse after the second period.
Bodnar and the North Stars rebounded Thursday, though, edging the Ice Dogs 2-1 to earn them a semi-final rematch with the Dukes.
“I think we put together two solid 60-minute games against Cochrane and Dryden, and only missed out on the bye to final by a couple goals,” Bodnar noted.
“In the semis, we put together a good 40 minutes, went up 1-0, but kinda fell asleep in the second [period],” he admitted.
“Playing a good team like Wellington, they took advantage of their opportunities,” Bodnar added.
“We made a good push in third to get within one goal but it was just to little, too late.”
Bodnar thought his North Stars’ teammates played extremely well defensively, which helped to make his job easier between the pipes.
“My teammates did a great job of keeping shots to the outside, tying up sticks, and boxing out to let me see shots, limiting lots of Grade ‘A’ chances,” he noted.
“And when they [the Dukes] did get those good chances, I was lucky enough to make a couple saves.”
The semi-final loss to Wellington officially spelled the end of Bodnar’s junior hockey career, but he’s thankful for every opportunity he has gotten and is looking forward to what the future holds for him.
All told, Bodnar suited up in 88 regular-season SIJHL games with the North Stars and Fort Frances Lakers, compiling a 51-21-4-3 record along with a 2.59 GAA and .920 save percentage.
In 23 career playoff games, Bodnar went 12-7-3 with a 2.57 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
“I had so much fun throughout my three years of junior,” Bodnar enthused.
“I would like to thank Wayne Strachan and everybody in the Fort Frances Lakers’ organization for giving me the opportunity to play at home and win a championship, as well as the Thunder Bay North Stars for taking me in this year,” he added.
“They are both first-class organizations and I owe it to them for making me into the player I am today.”
As for the future, Bodnar said he would like to keep playing hockey, wherever that may be, as long as he gets to keep going to the rink.
“There’s nothing much better than that,” he beamed.