North Stars cruise to sixth SIJHL crown


Keighan Gerrie scored twice, and assisted on the game-winner, to pace the Thunder Bay North Stars to a 4-1 win over the Red Lake Miners on Saturday night and capture the SIJHL’s Bill Salonen Cup title in front of a season-high crowd of 2,120 at the Fort William Gardens.
With the result, Thunder Bay won the best-of-seven series 4-1 and now advance to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Junior ‘A’ Championship slated for April 30-May 4 in Cochrane.
The Dudley-Hewitt Cup winner will then advance to the Canadian National Jr. ‘A’ Championship on May 11-19 in Brooks, Alta.
Thunder Bay got the boisterous home crowd fired up just two minutes into the first period of Game 5 as Alex Erwin fed one out front from behind the net to a waiting Jayden Mrakic, who promptly wired one from the slot past Miners’ goalie Zach Willms.
The visiting Miners countered at 7:36 as Stratton Pickett skated in, used a North Stars’ defender as a screen, and whipped one high that eluded Brock Aiken in the North Stars’ net to knot it at 1-1.
Answering back, the North Stars regained the lead five minutes later as defenceman Kyle Auger pinched in and outwaited Willms before sliding in his third of the playoffs.
Red Lake had a great chance to draw even in the middle frame after killing off a pair of penalties when Morgan Venne stepped out of the box and came in on a breakaway, only to be denied by Aiken.
Thunder Bay pumped 16 shots on Willms in the second, but could not solve the Miners’ stopper.
The North Stars then extended their lead 1:05 into the third when Gerrie was sent in alone and the highly-touted forward made no mistake in slipping one low that eluded Willms to make it 3-1.
They then capped off their victory five minutes after that as Gerrie connected once more to give Thunder Bay their first Bill Salonen Cup title since 2010, as well as the North Stars’ SIJHL-record sixth league championship.
Gerrie also added an assist while teammate Jacob Brown had three helpers of his own as the duo finished up with three-point performances.
The North Stars also held a big edge in shots by a 49-27 count, with Aiken earning the win and Willms suffering the season-ending defeat for Red Lake.
Thunder Bay had gone into Game 5 fresh off a 7-4 win on Thursday night in Red Lake.
The visitors started well as Gerrie went top shelf on Willms on a breakaway to open the scoring midway through the opening frame.
After Ryan Mignault put the North Stars up by a pair, Red Lake countered via a Venne power-play marker at 17:38.
The Miners then knotted it at 2-2 moments after another North Stars’ penalty had expired, with Liam Stalwick supplying the equalizer.
It was more from Red Lake at 8:06 of the second as Venne scored again.
Regrouping, Thunder Bay drew level during a two-man advantage as Michael Stubbs snapped one past Willms.
Still up a skater, the North Stars tacked on another at 14:15 as Josh Bryant stuffed one in from close range to make it 4-3 Thunder Bay after 40 minutes.
A third extra-man marker extended the Stars’ lead when Kyle Auger went up top from a sharp angle from the right side 2:53 into the third.
Stubbs and Brendan Gillis both broke in alone on a breakaway and while Willms made an initial stop, Stubbs finished off the rebound.
Battling back, the Miners pulled closer on a nice deflection in front by Spencer Milne that trickled past Aiken in the Thunder Bay net with 6:43 remaining just after another penalty expired.
Red Lake had a couple more late power plays, but Gillis iced it with an empty netter in the final minute to secure the road victory.
Auger and Joel Willan had three assists apiece for the North Stars while Sean Gula and Keilan Toews had two helpers apiece for the Miners.
Shots on goal finished 40-26 in favour of Thunder Bay.