Thunder finally knock out Bulldogs Team to face Dryden in SIJHL finals

Minutes after guiding the Borderland Thunder to their biggest win in the team’s young history, head coach Wayne Strachan finally had a chance to loosen his tie.
His team picked the perfect time to deliver their best game of the semi-final series in shutting down the persistent Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs 4-0 in Game 7 here last night.
“I don’t know about relieved,” the 29-year-old coach said after the Thunder came close to squandering a 3-1 series lead. “I’m just happy we came out and played our game.
“From the drop of the puck, we took it to them. We forced and played them the way we wanted to,” he noted.
The win earned the Thunder a trip to the league final against the Dryden Ice Dogs, which opens here Saturday night.
“We were a little disappointed we couldn’t close it out here [on Saturday],” said Thunder centre Matt Johnson. “[But] it was great to see everyone out tonight. . . .
“We knew if we played well, we’d prevail.”
“It’s 10 times better to win here at home than on the road,” said Thunder goalie Rob Hrabec, who stopped all 31 shots for his first shutout of the playoffs—and the season.
“We knew it was do or die. We stepped it up,” he added.
A good start again was the key last night (teams scoring first were 7-0 in the series) as the Thunder capitalized on their chances.
Ian Lockman opened things up with 7:47 left in the first period by sweeping a loose puck off a Kevin Webb wraparound attempt over Bulldogs goalie Keith Anderson.
Then while shorthanded, Webb found another free puck off a faceoff to squeak a low shot between Anderson’s pads to make it 2-0 at the 15:11 mark.
A late Bulldogs penalty in the first gave the Thunder a power play to open the second. And they didn’t waste any time as Dallas Mosbeck rifled a shot that bounced off Anderson’s glove and into the net just 25 seconds into the period.
Hrabec made several big stops on the Bulldogs’ top line of Tyler Bruno, Trevor Karasiewicz, and Brian Dzijak.
Johnson added the insurance marker on the man advantage with 1:45 to play in the second on a deflection from a Kyle Prystupa shot.
Strong defence the rest of the way led to the Thunder moving on—and the Bulldogs going home.
“We just didn’t have the bounce in our step and [the Thunder] did what we have to do,” Thunder Bay head coach Brian Vescio said. “They played like they had to at home in a big game.”
The Thunder looked like a first-place team after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Bulldogs. But last week, they dropped one of two in Thunder Bay and were shocked 5-4 in double overtime in Game 5 here Saturday night.
The Thunder had scored two goals in the final minute to tie the game, only to lose it in OT and head back to Thunder Bay for Game 6 on Monday night, where they were blanked 1-0 to send the series back here for the seventh-and-deciding game.
Borderland defenceman David Lloyd said fatigue played no role in yesterday’s preparations, which included no ice time but an extended stretch and jog.
“We were all pretty focused, pretty pumped. We weren’t looking to hold anything back,” he said.
“We were a little tired, but hey, it’s a Game 7. You have to up for that,” echoed Johnson.
Game 1 of the SIJHL final goes here Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the Ice Dogs, who swept the Feathermen Hawks in their semi-final series.
Game 2 is slated Sunday at 2 p.m. before the series shifts to Dryden for the next two games.
Advanced tickets cost $10, which are available at Skates and Blades and CC Complex.