T’hawks looking to home-opener after Kenora loss

Dan Falloon

Things were looking good for the Fort Frances Thunderhawks as they kicked off their senior ‘AAA’ season Friday night in Kenora.
But a short bench further cut by penalties, injuries, and ejections eventually did in the visitors as they fell 5-3 to the Thistles.
T’hawks coach Randy White acknowledged that a number of players having commitments outside of hockey can make icing a team difficult, especially for out-of-town contests.
“The toughest thing is going on the road,” he noted. “Guys have to work—that’s understandable—and guys have families.
“Maybe you don’t get to go with the four full lines that you’d like to have, and so that’s kind of a dilemma when you go on the road.”
This was illustrated best midway through the third when the T’hawks had only four players on their bench while five skaters and the goalie were on the ice.
“We ran into a lot of penalties in the second and third,” White remarked.
“It gave us a short bench, and we really ran out of steam.”
The T’hawks had jumped out to a good start when defenceman Jake Esselink got Fort Frances on the board after pouncing on a rebound.
Then after a pair of Ross Johnson goals in the second, the locals were rolling—heading into the third with a 3-1 lead.
But the story of the third was penalties as Kenora beat Chris Medicine twice in five-on-three situations to even the game at 3-3.
Kenora eventually tallied twice more to seal the victory.
White reflected on an opportunity Fort Frances had to take hold of the game by opening up a three-goal spread, and that missed chance ended up looming large.
“We had a chance to go ahead 4-1 and we missed an open net,” he sighed. “That comes back to haunt you.
“We’re up 3-1, we get that fourth one and I think she’s game over,” he added. “But that didn’t happen and the momentum switched.”
White was impressed by the play of both goalies—Medicine and Ryan Person of Kenora, noting Person made some “unbelievable saves.”
And despite the loss, White said he saw a number of positives from his team, especially in situations where the T’hawks and Thistles were evenly matched on the ice.
“It was good to see them five-on-five,” he remarked. “We took it to them.
“The puck dropped and they [Kenora] were on their heels. Certainly for the first period-and-a-half, we had our way with them.
“If we can stay five-on-five with them, we’ll be fine,” White predicted.
He also said the offence looked potent when given the chance while the defence and Medicine put in a yeoman’s effort on the back end.
“Our forward lines, they were flying, all three lines,” he recalled.
“We were short-handed on the defensive end of it, so the guys we had, they got a ton of ice time and were double-shifting.
“They were pretty tired after Friday night,” he added.
In particular, Esselink and Josh Meyers caught White’s attention as players to watch while Sean Councillor pulled double duty as both a forward and defenceman.
“He played both forward and [defence] for us, so that’s a very nice attribute to have to play both,” noted White.
“That saved us.”
The T’hawks have four more meetings with the Thistles this season, including their next showdown Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. at the ’52 Canadians Arena here.
White figured that even though the Thistles will have a better idea of what the T’hawks bring to the table, the remaining matches still should be close, entertaining games.
“I think Kenora had their eyes opened a little bit,” he remarked. “It was fast hockey.
“Kenora’s got a very nice team,” he added. “We’ll have good games with them all year, for sure.
“It’s going to go both ways.”
Fort Frances will be back on the ice before that Jan. 11 rematch, however.
The squad will host its home-opener this Saturday (Dec. 18) at 6:45 p.m. when the Manitoba Lightning come to town.
The teams then will square off again Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Before Saturday’s game, the T’hawks will hold a dedication ceremony in honour of Clayton “Beef” Windigo, a defenceman for the team who passed away this summer.
The ceremony is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. (not 6:15 p.m. as originally scheduled).
White choked up a bit when talking about Windigo and noticing his absence at Friday night’s game in Kenora.
“You look down the bench and you certainly miss ‘Beef’ Windigo,” he said.
“He’s a guy that would have been there and should have been there.”