Thunder face stiff challenge from Stars

The home crowd will be on the Borderland Thunder’s side this weekend but history will not, at least not so far this season when it comes to the Fort William First Nation North Stars.
The third-place Thunder (13-13-2-2) are coming off a stretch of four road games that saw them go 2-0-1-1 against the SIJHL’s lower-ranked teams in the fourth-place Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs (12-16-2-3), who trail the Thunder by one point, and the cellar-dwelling K&A Variety Golden Hawks (2-29-4-1).
But the degree of difficulty goes up considerably when the second-place Stars (24-5-1-1) invade the Ice for Kids Arena on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in what will be the first two of four-consecutive games here against the Thunder.
Fort William has owned Borderland so far this season, going a convincing 8-0 against the Thunder, with only one of those games getting as far as overtime.
Only two of the games have been here, though, including that 3-2 extra-period loss Dec. 5.
The Stars have a wealth of offensive talent, with five players exceeding the 30-point mark this season and three in the top five in SIJHL scoring.
That crew includes team leader Spencer Bodnar (56 points, tied for second in the SIJHL), team goal-scoring leader Steve Atkins (23 goals and 30 assists), and Cory Bruno (48 points).
As if that wasn’t enough firepower, the Stars also boast the league’s Player-of-the-Month for December in Mike Krelove, who had 12 points in six games last month and now has 24 in just 13 games with Fort William.
Then there’s the blueline corps, featuring Albert Kavanaugh and his 23 points, tied for tops in scoring among defencemen with the Thunder’s Kurt Hogard, Jarris Blacksmith of the Golden Hawks, and former Muskie Cody Mosbeck of the Dryden Ice Dogs.
The real strength of the team, however, may rest between the pipes with the top-flight tandem of Daniel Beardy and Jean-Frederick Beaudoin.
Beardy has been practically unbeatable this season, ringing up a lofty 14-1 record to lead the SIJHL in wins while also owning the best goals-against average (2.51).
Beaudoin has been no slouch himself, going 10-5-1 while having the league’s third-best GAA (2.90).
Kevin Webb continues to be the go-to guy for the Thunder, with a team-high 21 goals, including four in two games against the Hawks in Thunder Bay last weekend.
Dan Hoehne is being counted on to carry the load in goal, and is 10-5-1 with a 3.20 GAA in what’s been an injury-plagued season for him.
He’s been very steady in his eight games since returning from a five-week layoff due to a concussion, chalking up a 6-1-0-1 mark in that time.
< *c>Moving targets
The Thunder walked into the Hawks’ rink keen on extending K&A’s miserable season and maintain their perfect 6-0 record against the Hawks. Instead, they found themselves with their hands full in both contests—and were fortunate to leave town with a win and tie.
Friday night’s 6-5 win by the Thunder saw the local side jump out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, thanks to a goal by Weossner and then back-to-back ones by Webb 4:31 apart.
Nathan Hookimaw scored for the Hawks.
K&A then came blasting out of the dressing room in the second period, with Tim Wabononik and Brent Irwin scoring in the first 5:05 to knot the affair at 3-3.
Weossner netted his second of the game, and 15th of the campaign, at 18:46 of the period to put Borderland back in front, then Sean Councillor collected his first of two on the night at 3:32 of the third to make it 5-3.
But Jeff Herringer made good on a penalty shot against Hoehne at 9:14, then struck again at 13:33 to tie the game 5-5—and put the Thunder on their heels once again.
Councillor came through with his second of the night, and fourth of the season, at the 17-minute mark for the game-winner.
But it took the Thunder’s penalty-killing unit to clinch the two points after Borderland’s Clayton Windigo, who leads the team with 171 penalty minutes, was whistled for slashing with 2:03 left in regulation time.
Hoehne made 33 stops to earn the victory over his Hawks’ counterpart Carter Hutton, who kicked out 42 shots.
Mike Downer, who went 13-5-2 with a 3.15 GAA for the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League this season, made 33 saves in his Thunder debut Saturday night in a 3-3 draw with the Hawks.
After a scoreless first period, the Thunder grabbed a 3-2 lead in the second on goals by Rob Scales (his fourth of the season) and Webb’s 20th and 21st. Irwin and Hookimaw replied for the Hawks.
But with Borderland’s Spencer David in the box for cross-checking, Wabononik capitalized just 11 seconds into the power play at 9:36 to pull the Hawks even.
The Thunder outshot the Hawks 52-36, including 6-2 in overtime, but K&A goalie Andrew Dimando was outstanding in his first SIJHL game while turning aside 49 shots.
In related news, Thunder general manager Brent Tookenay announced this past week that there would be no further changes to the team’s roster for the time being.
Borderland still has until Feb. 10 to sign players for this season before the Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League deadline comes into effect.