Thunder focus on long road ahead

There’s no place like home—and that’s just the way the Borderland Thunder want it.
After a tough weekend which saw the team earn just one out of a possible four points against the Fort William Wolves at the Memorial Sports Centre, Thunder captain Josh Baxter is hoping the team’s upcoming five-game road swing is just what the doctor ordered.
“We’re going to work harder hopefully on the road,” Baxter said about the Thunder (10-3-3-1), which still leads the SIJHL standings by two points over the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs (10-5-1-1).
“The trip should help bring us together, and keep each other going.”
The Thunder begin their excursion this Saturday in Thunder Bay with a rematch against the Wolves (7-7-2-3), who have moved into a third-place tie with the Dryden Ice Dogs (9-5-1), although the Ice Dogs hold four games in hand.
The Thunder then move on to face the fifth-place Feathermen Hawks (7-12-1-2) on Sunday afternoon. They follow that up with a Nov. 27 match-up against Dryden, before finishing the road stretch with games Nov. 29-30 against the Bulldogs back in Thunder Bay.
Thunder head coach Dave Allison said the team needs to deal with its worst enemy—itself.
“The solution has to come from within your own room,” said Allison, who blasted his club in his post-game dressing room speech for their lacklustre effort after a 4-4 draw with Fort William last Friday night, then watched them cough up a four-goal, second-period lead Saturday night en route to a 6-5 loss in overtime.
“You’ve got to go whistle to whistle. We’ve got to be stronger in our own zone,” Allison stressed. “We’ve got to avoid the turnovers, which will kill any team.
“This game is about time and space—how you create it and how you take it away.
“Give the Wolves credit. They didn’t quit. We could take a page from them,” Allison added.
Newcomer Nathan McIntee’s power-play goal at 15:57 of the first period Friday night to give the Thunder a 1-0 lead was memorable for two reasons.
After redirecting Jay Phillips’ hard pass behind Wolves’ goalie J.F. Beaudoin, McIntee got credit for his first SIJHL tally since coming to the Thunder last week after being property of the Southeast Blades of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The only downside was that, due to a mistake on the official gamesheet, he originally was called Grant McIntee by the P.A. announcer, who fixed the error in time for McIntee’s assist on Kevin Webb’s second-period goal.
Josh McAndrew notched another power-play goal with 25 seconds left in the period to make it 2-0. But instead of going for the kill, the Thunder sat back and let the Wolves bare their fangs.
Fort William carried the play early in the second period, leading to Allison calling a time-out at the 4:31 mark to shake his team out of its doldrums.
The lecture did not have the desired effect as a persevering Wolves team finally solved goalie D’arcy Munro at 15:21, when SIJHL scoring leader Spencer Bodnar (40 points) lit the lamp to make it 2-1.
Webb scored his first of two in the contest at 17:13 to restore the Thunder’s two-goal lead, but Steve Atkins netted an unassisted goal with 28 seconds left in the frame to give the Wolves renewed vigour.
Penalty problems, which the Thunder mostly have avoided so far this season, put the host team under the gun in the third—and Fort William was all too happy to pull the trigger.
A McAndrew tripping minor and a slashing infraction by Chris Schaen left the Thunder two men short for 57 seconds.
Bodnar made good use of the open space, walking in unchallenged from the right face-off circle to score his second of the game and league-leading 19th of the season to tie the game 3-3.
Only 38 seconds later, Wes Thom, who stands second in the SIJHL scoring race behind Bod-nar with 37 points, had Jamie Dowson’s point blast bounce off him and in to give the Wolves their first lead.
With Munro pulled for an extra attacker, the Thunder escaped with the point when Webb cashed in a rebound of Schaen’s blueline bullet with 43 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
A rash of penalties early in the extra period had the two teams playing 3-on-3 for a while and with room to operate, Webb nearly ended the game twice.
A 2-on-1 with Kyle Prystupa went awry when Prystupa’s pass across was deflected too high for Webb to knock down. Seconds later, Webb burst from the side boards right to the net—only to have Beaudoin stone him with a lunging glove save.
Tale of two games
Meanwhile, Saturday night’s contest was a tale of two games as the Thunder exploded for a 5-1 lead by 2:36 of the second period on goals by A.J. Tucker (seventh of the season), Kurt Hogard (second), Webb (team-high 12th), McAndrew (ninth), and Chad Baldwin (fourth).
But after Matt Heerema had the only Wolves’ reply in the first period, Fort William kicked their offence into gear, with Thom, Tom Grant, and Mike Greaves making it 5-4 by the end of the middle frame.
Then, with only 22 seconds left in regulation time and Beaudoin on the bench for a sixth skater, Jarryd Brend jumped on a loose puck at the side of the net and tucked it in for the tying marker—leaving the Thunder and the home crowd stunned.
That disbelief was magnified 3:42 into overtime when Grant forced a turnover at the Thunder blueline and sent Thom in alone on goalie Jamie Munro, who had taken over for starter Dan Hoehne midway through the game.
Thom unleashed a pinpoint wrist shot from 10 feet out that zipped past Munro on the stick side to touch off a celebration by the Wolves which rivalled that of any Stanley Cup-winning squad in recent memory—as Fort William poured onto the ice to mob their assistant captain and scoring hero.
The next home games for the Thunder are scheduled Dec. 13-14 against the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs.