Thunder hope to end road woes

The Borderland Thunder went into the holiday break feeling good about themselves—and came out of it the same way.
The true self-confidence test, though, comes this weekend.
The Thunder head east to tackle the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs this Friday and Saturday in a rematch of last weekend’s two-game set at the Ice for Kids Arena that was swept by the Thunder to run their winning streak to four.
But with a meager 2-11 record away from home so far this season, Thunder head coach Dave Allison understands the importance of focusing on certain aspects of the game if the team is to continue its recent success.
“We’ve got to have the mentality to battle as a group,” he stressed. “We’ve got to play smart and show good discipline.
“With the American kids coming back soon [Ryan Kramer, Tyler Krzoska, Ryan McInnery, and Derek and Drew Fisher of the International Falls Broncos], if guys aren’t willing to compete, they’re going to find themselves up in the crowd watching.
“That’s not a threat, it’s reality.”
Saturday night’s 7-0 shutout of the Bulldogs here was surprisingly one of the team’s best outings of the year considering they were coming off a 14-day layoff.
Stephen MacLeod stepped to the forefront to take some of the offensive load off of team points leader Kevin Webb’s shoulders, scoring a natural hat trick to send the Thunder on their way.
The Atikokan native—playing in just his seventh game with the Thunder—connected on the power play at 6:38 of the first and again at 13:27 to put Borderland in front 2-0.
A chippy first period saw forward Sean Councillor, in for veteran Ian Lockman (one-game suspension for third fight), tossed for chucking knuckles with the Bulldogs’ Josh Anderson at 11:43.
Just seven seconds later, Borderland’s Spencer Davis got into it with Thunder Bay’s Jesse Bedard—earning himself two minors and a game misconduct of his own.
The teams got back to playing hockey after that, with only three minors called in the second and none in the third. MacLeod fired his third of the evening—and fourth of the season—unassisted to kick off a four-goal period for the Thunder at 5:02.
Dennis Morrison (eighth), Webb (17th), and David Gooch (sixth) also tallied before the end of the frame against Bulldogs goalie Josh Hand, who made 38 saves in a losing effort as his record fell to 1-2-1 on the season.
Justin Green added his second of the season for the lone goal of the third at 2:25. Dan Hoehne made 27 saves for his second shutout.
< *c>Sunday siesta
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s only Sunday afternoon game of the campaign translated into a 5-4 win in overtime before one of its smallest home crowds this season.
Both teams’ benches were a little on the thin side, too.
The Bulldogs—due to a raft of injuries—only had 13 skaters for the game while the Thunder had to make do without forwards Aaron Boyer (ribs) and Eric Schultz (curfew violation).
Cale David opened the scoring on the power play with his second of the season as his point shot fooled Bulldogs’ goalie Ryan McManus at the 2:50 mark.
Lockman then made an impact in his return to the lineup as he scooped up the rebound of Nate Weossner’s shot and made a nifty move to tuck the puck behind McManus for his third of the season at 6:35.
Thunder Bay’s Adam Sergerie—second in the SIJHL with 24 goals—brought his team back into the game by scoring 51 seconds into the middle frame.
But Clayton Windigo, moving up from his normal blueline position to play forward in the game, responded at 12:50 when he converted Morrison’s pass from the corner.
Green made it 4-1 at 4:01 of the third, crashing the net to bang in a rebound after Morrison made a great move at the blueline to free himself up for the original shot.
But a determined Bulldogs squad was in no mood to roll over and play dead.
Ryan Minoletti made it 4-2 just 11 seconds after Green’s goal, before Ryan Bolduc put the momentum squarely in the Bulldogs’ favour.
After fighting off the check of Thunder defenceman Ryan Mayman in front of Hoehne to lift a shot just under the crossbar at 13:54, Bolduc then tied the game 28 seconds later with a howitzer from just inside the Thunder blueline that beat Hoehne through the five-hole.
The meltdown continued for Borderland when Morrison, who had two assists in the game, ended his own day by getting a roughing after the whistle penalty and then firing his gloves and stick down in the penalty box to earn a 10-minute misconduct at 15:37.
To make matters worse, the Thunder could not convert on a two-man advantage late in the period that would have meant avoiding overtime.
< *c>Scales of justice
Rob Scales made sure Borderland’s winning ways would continue, however, with his third of the year at 3:05 of the extra session.
He established position in front of the net and tipped Kurt Hogard’s shot past McManus, who was valiant in making 47 saves in the game but dropped to 2-6 for the season.
The win improved the Thunder’s overtime record to 2-1-1 for the year, upped their home mark to 9-3-1, and made Hoehne victorious in four of his five starts since returning from his five-week layoff due to a concussion.
“I like the way we’ve been creating offence,” said Allison. “But we had a letdown in the third. We’re looking for that warrior mentality. People like Mayman, [Andrew] Perrault, and Davis have to step up to improve the depth on our back end.
“Guys like Andrew Dault stepped up and played some big minutes this weekend,” added Allison. “I also give a guy like [Windigo] a lot of credit. He has really improved himself since the beginning of the year.
“He’s understanding about leadership and being unselfish, and we’re comfortable using him as a forward or defenceman.”
The Thunder were hoping to have captain Josh McAndrew back this weekend from a wrist injury that has sidelined him for the past 18 games. But Allison said Sunday the team would rather “err on the side of caution,” and that McAndrew still would be out for at least another two weeks.
Borderland plays its next four games on the road, with its next home dates slated Jan. 23-24 against the Fort William First Nation North Stars.
The Stars currently are in second place in the SIJHL with a 22-4-1 record, and have won their last 12 in a row en route to becoming the third-ranked team in the Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League.
The Dryden Ice Dogs (20-3-5-2) lead the Stars by two points for first place, although the Stars have three games in hand.
Meanwhile, with the overtime loss Sunday, the Bulldogs (10-13-2-3) remain one point ahead of the Thunder (11-13-1-1) for third place. The K&A Variety Golden Hawks (2-26-3) round out the standings.
In related news, the league has decided to allow the respective head coaches of Team East and Team West to select their rosters for the upcoming SIJHL all-star game Jan. 28 in Dryden.
Last year, fan voting decided the starting lineups for the all-star game, with the coaches filling out the rest of the roster. Allison coached Team West last year while seven Thunder players took part.