Thunder face must-win game tonight

They’re at the edge of a deep hole. Not inside the hole, just at the edge.
The Borderland Thunder enter Game 3 of the best-of-seven SIJHL final tonight at the Dryden Recrea-tion Centre down 2-0—seemingly left for dead against a confident and streaking Ice Dogs team.
But the team knows it takes just one win—one win—to get them back into the series. One win to turn things around.
It’s a win that will have to come tonight.
“You can’t dwell on the past now, we have a big task ahead of us,” Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan said after his team lost 3-0 in Game 2 here Sunday night after falling 4-3 in the opener Saturday.
“[Tonight] is a must-win for us and we have to go into Dryden with confidence.”
Forward Kyle Prystupa, who scored the Thunder’s first goal in Game 1, agreed there’s a lot at stake tonight.
“The series isn’t done by any stretch. This is the most important game of the season,” said the Manitoba native, who has six points in nine playoff games for the Thunder.
Game 4 goes tomorrow night, also at the Recreation Centre. Game 5, if necessary, will be played back here next Tuesday (April 9).
Despite holding a 2-0 advantage, Ice Dogs head coach Larry Wintoneak remained cautious.
“The series is not over yet. I know [Strachan] and he’ll have them ready to play when they show up in Dryden,” said the 43-year-old Thunder Bay native who guided the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to the Royal Bank Cup (junior ‘A’) national finals last spring.
The Thunder are 2-2-1 at the Dryden Recreation Centre—a.k.a. “the Dog Pound”—so far this season.
“We don’t get intimidated when we go there,” said Prystupa. “It’s always loud and hostile against us. It makes things more fun.”
It was the Ice Dogs’ neutral zone trap that rattled the Thunder, especially in Sunday’s low-scoring affair.
After Konrad Bruetsch slid a loose puck past Thunder goalie Rob Hrabec at the 9:28 mark of the first period, Dryden sat on the 1-0 lead the rest of the way before Mike English scored two empty-net goals to ice the win.
“Their trapping was tough. We have to be patient to beat it. I thought we were more frustrated than patient,” said Prystupa. “We couldn’t get much generated down low.”
Strachan said his team will have to use their speed and get in the face of Ice Dogs goalie Ryan McGillis if they have any chance of making a dent in this series.
“We have to have some jump. Get our feet moving, finish our checks, and go to the net with a lot of desire,” he stressed.
The Thunder, who finished first during the regular season with a 28-11-9 record, have not had an easy time in the inaugural SIJHL post-season.
They jumped out to a 3-1 series lead over the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs but needed the full seven games to beat them.
Meanwhile, the Ice Dogs have gone 6-0 in the post-season, including a four-game sweep of the Feathermen Hawks in the semi-finals. Under Wintoneak, Dryden is 14-2-1 overall.
Unlike Sunday’s game, the series began with a high-tempo pace here Saturday night. Ice Dogs captain Brian Rankin opened the scoring midway through the first on a slapshot that handcuffed Hrabec as his team was changing lines.
Prystupa scored his goal off a pretty feed from Kevin Webb on a 2-on-1 rush, before Thunder leading scorer Matt Johnson and Bruetsch traded goals in the second period.
Then after Steven Roy and Jay Philips traded goals to make it 3-3, the latter coming with about three minutes left in regulation time, Tyler McDonald rushed through the Thunder defence and netted the game-winner in the final minute of play.
“I think we outplayed Dryden [on Saturday]. We just never capitalized on our chances and they capitalized on every mistake we made,” said Strachan.
The Thunder did enjoy their biggest crowds for both games, with all seats at the Ice for Kids Arena filled.
Of the nearly 1,000 in attendance were about 100 Dryden fans, who obviously made the most noise by the end of the Easter weekend.
“Both organizations put away 150 tickets for each road game,” said Wintoneak. “These two communities have battled in a lot of things for a long time.
“This is definitely good for the league.”
The winner of this series will face the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey Association champion in the Dudley Hewitt Cup—where a berth at the Royal Bank Cup will be at stake.
The NOJHA is midway through its best-of-seven semi-final series.