Thunder eager for home ice debut Friday

The Borderland Thunder have the right ingredients heading into their first set of home games this weekend–a 4-1-1 record, a taste of first place in the young Superior International Junior Hockey League, and a team that’s starting to come together.
“It’ll be big. We’ve got a lot of fan support at the Fort already,” noted team captain Josh Baxter, who will lead a junior team on Fort Frances ice for the first time in almost 30 years. “It’s going to be a big event and we’re pretty excited about it.”
Assistant captain Terry Parisien agreed, but added the team won’t lose sight of their goal of sweeping the two games against the Thunder Bay Bulldogs despite the hoopla.
“We’re actually pretty pumped about it. We want to play hard and, hopefully, get those two wins in our rink,” said the Kenora-born defenceman.
And starting six of their first 48 league games on the road wasn’t so bad, said Baxter. He said their games in Thunder Bay–including a 13-player brawl against the Wolves on Sept. 29–really helped team chemistry.
“It’s getting better. We’re hanging out with each other a little more and just coming together as a team,” he remarked. “That little scrum with the Wolves probably brought us together a bit.”
The Thunder grabbed first place after going undefeated on Thanksgiving weekend in Thunder Bay, beating the Bulldogs 4-1 and 4-3 before surrendering a late goal to settle for a 3-3 tie with the Feathermen Hawks on Sunday.
The Hawks took an early lead of Charly Washipabano’s goal off a 2-on-1. Then they missed the net minutes later, which led to Thunder forward Justin Bodnarchuk picking up an errant puck and feeding a cutting Matt Johnson, who slid the puck under goalie Daniel Beardy.
Johnson scored a similar goal off a rebound to tie the game at 2-2.
Kevin Webb gave the Thunder the lead late in the second period after the Hawks took a series of roughing penalties to allow a five-on-three advantage.
After pressing Thunder goalie Tom Iwaniec heavily through the third period, Wesley Trapper finally blinked the red light with a shot over the sprawling netminder.
“There were a lot of bumps. It was a good physical game but it was what we needed, a good road game,” said Baxter.
Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan was impressed with how both teams battled each other.
“The Hawks are very aggressive. They’re big, strong, and keep coming at you,” he said. “[But[ we answered the call. Our boys played well. It was a good game, probably the best one I’ve seen so far.”
Strachan said the referee put his whistle in his pocket in the third period, much to the dismay of a lively NorWest Arena crowd.
“I think as the game went on, [the ref] may have let a couple calls go. But on a whole, the reffing was fairly good. It’s pretty even between both teams.
“ The refs didn’t play a big role in that game.”
On Saturday, the Thunder roar-ed back from an early two-goal deficit to nip the Bulldogs on the strength of two identical one-timer power play goals in the third period.
Kyle Prystupa, Johnson, and Webb (two) scored in that contest.
Johnson, Webb, Steven King, and Tyler Barker all scored in the first period to spark the Thunder to Friday night’s win against the Bulldogs.
Centre John Antoniak scored for the Bulldogs.
Parisien said the team is improving as the season goes on.
“I’m really happy with how we’re playing. We still have a lot of time to improve,” he noted.
“We have a lot of good players on the team so I’m very happy with the team so far.”
Elsewhere in the SIJHL, Dryden tied the Northwest Wisconsin Knights twice by scores of 6-6 and 4-4 while the Hawks downed the Bulldogs 6-2 earlier in the week.