T’hawks playing with dynamite over slow starts

Dan Falloon

The Fort Frances Thunderhawks can’t seem to wake up and smell the coffee wafting through the air.
Perhaps an industrial strength fan blasting the aroma of caffeine into their dressing room would do the trick.
The T’hawks have been plagued by slow starts in their three games so far this season, including early three- and four-goal deficits here Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
While the home side eventually recovered Friday, surging back to a 6-5 win over the visiting Thunder Bay Twins, the four-spot was too much to overcome in Saturday’s 10-5 loss.
“We got behind 4-0 [on Saturday], I’m sure you’ve heard,” said coach Randy White. “We came back, made a game of it, but you’re playing with dynamite if you do that every game and it cost us, for sure.
“It’s a tough way to play,” he added. “It’s like you’re trying to come back as soon as the puck is dropped, almost.”
During Friday night’s game, White said the coaches stayed positive with the players on the bench in the early going, with team captain Ian Lockman noting the focus was just on tightening up the fundamentals.
“We came in [at the first intermission] and had a little talk about finishing our hits and shooting the puck more, and keeping our feet moving,” he recounted.
“And try not to take any stupid penalties.”
Four of Fort Frances’ 10 infractions Friday were for roughing after the whistle, including once with a delayed penalty against the hosts.
The T’hawks did end up killing both ends of that 5-on-3 disadvantage, but White said those types of penalties were ones that needed to be addressed.
“Being down two men really took a lot out of us,” he conceded. “Penalties are the thing you’ve gotta stay away from.
“The game could come down to special teams, and we want to have the best chance for success.”
But Lockman said those penalties can come along with the way the team plays, and are “not necessarily” an area where the team needs to scale back.
“We could, but we’re not going to back down,” he stressed. “Team toughness, all around.
“We’re going to back up our own players,” he vowed.
Even though the penalty-calling was even during the weekend set (each team took 20 over the two games), White pleaded for a little more leeway.
“I don’t know, it wasn’t that rough of a game,” said White. “But they [the refs] start calling that and it gets rougher, and sometimes these refs have got to get a better pulse for the game.
“The ref that did our first game against Kenora [a 7-6 loss in a shootout last month] was on top of it,” he noted. “There were probably four penalties in the entire game and it had a lot of flow to it, and there was no rough stuff at all.”
White said he wasn’t concerned that his team was being singled out, but was more concerned about the entertainment value of the game.
“This is a working-man’s league and we don’t want to see anybody get hurt,” he stressed. “We don’t want to put on any type of a brawl.
“We want to stay away from fighting and we want to put on a good brand of fast, clean hockey,” he pledged.
And even though Friday night’s game featured 22 penalties combined, White did call that game “exciting.”
Ross Johnson scored twice in the opener, including the game-winner, and also added an assist as the Thunderhawks notched their first win in franchise history.
Johnson’s deciding goal was a quick strike response to Mike Krelove’s second goal of the night, which had tied the game at 5-5 a mere 35 seconds earlier.
The home side trailed 3-0 after the first period on goals by Keith Mason, Mike Fair, and Krelove. But the T’hawks got rolling in the second as Sean Councillor corralled a Kris Esselink point shot and deposited it just 82 seconds into the frame.
Jeff Savage and Rustyn Dolyny also tallied is less than two minutes to make it 3-3.
Johnson and Bruce Elson rounded out the Thunderhawks’ second-period strike, although Thunder Bay’s Nathan Breukelman deflected a shot off a Fort Frances defender and past Chris Medicine with less than a second remaining to head to the locker-room only trailing by one.
Krelove then tied the game with just over six minutes left in regulation time before Johnson secured the win seconds later.
Fort Frances again started slowly Saturday night—this time spotting the visiting Twins four goals in the first 13 minutes of action.
But the home side showed some resilience once more, notching three goals in 2:57 to cut the deficit to one at intermission.
Brian White kick-started the rally with a shorthanded marker while Tom Biondich and Dolyny also bulged the twine.
The second period followed a similar pattern, however, as the Twins scored three-straight goals to grab a 7-3 lead.
But like in the first, the hosts grew stronger as time progressed, with goals by Johnson and Tyler Barker again tightening the score.
The Thunderhawks just didn’t have another comeback in them, though, as Thunder Bay blitzed Mike Bannon for three more goals to avoid the weekend sweep.
Breukelman pitched in two goals and an assist for the Twins while defenceman Kory McEwen also netted a pair.
“We’re going to get better,” vowed White. “Up front, we’re very strong but our defence, we got caught flat-footed a lot.
“Guys would get in behind our ‘D’ and our ‘D’ wasn’t watching,” he added.
“That happened a few times.”
White said their lineup isn’t set in stone yet, and that the team is looking at adding some players from the collegiate ranks.
The Thunderhawks are on the road for their next three games, playing in Thunder Bay on Dec. 18 and 19 before heading to Kenora on Dec 22.
White said the T’hawks are trying to get other games scheduled before then, but noted those contests are not yet confirmed.
Thunder Bay and the Steinbach North Stars are potential opponents.