Thunder look forward to regular season

Team confidence is high as the Borderland Thunder get ready for their first season in the inaugural Superior International Junior Hockey League later this month.
And why not? The Thunder racked up a 5-0 record to capture top honours in the SIJHL’s “showcase” pre-season tourney in Thunder Bay last weekend.
Just as impressive, the Thunder pulled out all five games after trailing in the third period, including Sunday’s final against the Iron Range Yellow Jackets (Grand Rapids, Mn.)
Down 3-2 early in the third, the local squad netted four unanswered goals to win 6-3 and take home the trophy.
Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan was calm and confident as he walked towards the dressing room after the final.
“At times, we got a little frustrated,” he noted. “[But] the boys realized they could do a little better as the games went on.
“To come out like they did in those third periods was like night and day, from one team to another,” he added.
The Yellow Jackets seemed to grab the momentum when Derek Zemanovic flipped a shot that squeaked through goalie Jason Flatt’s pads to give them a 3-2 lead.
But the Thunder roared back with a pair of goals in the span of a minute to take control. After Steven King had tied it up, Matt Johnson got open on the right side after receiving the puck on a tip pass from King at the blueline with just over five minutes to play.
Cole Hayward and Johnson added late goals to seal the victory.
Flatt stopped 30 shots to earn the win–his second of the tournament. Tom Iwaniec and Chris Cain also saw action in goal on the weekend, with Iwaniec picking up two wins and Cain one.
After the Yellow Jackets had grabbed an early 2-0 lead, defenceman Terry Pepisian tallied from the left face-off circle in the second period to put the Thunder on the scoreboard.
Marty Hanson then tied the game just before intermission after skating in from the point and converting a pretty feed from David Lloyd.
Yellow Jackets coach Eric Ballard said his team enjoyed two good games against the Thunder (including a 4-2 loss during round-robin action Friday night) but made the same mistakes in blowing leads.
“It was a good game and they came back to beat us. We didn’t make any major adjustments [from the first game],” said Ballard. “We just let loose a little bit too much and allowed them to sneak back in it.”
The Thunder had opened action last Friday morning with a 7-4 win over the Feathermen Hawks (Thunder Bay). Then after downing the Yellow Jackets that night, they dumped the Dryden Ice Dogs 8-3 and then nipped the Northwest Wisconsin Knights (Spooner) 6-5 on Saturday to advance to the final.
The Thunder took 24 skaters to Thunder Bay and worked some lines together, finding some chemistry, said Johnson, who was a late addition to the team.
The Kenora native was a late cut of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves, who chose Fort Frances after several discussions with the coaching staff.
“Nothing seemed to be clicking [in Sudbury] and these guys have a really great organization and they treat their players well,” noted the 18-year-old centre.
“We’ve definitely come together as a team. Our lines are starting to gel and we’re looking pretty good right now,” he enthused. “We’re pretty excited to start the season here.”
But with the success comes the task of cutting their roster down to 20 skaters before they start the regular season Sept. 28-30 in Thunder Bay against the Bulldogs and then two games versus the Wolves.
Their home opener is slated Oct. 12 against the Bulldogs.
“It’s going to be tough this week,” admitted Strachan. “A lot of guys showed what they could do and showed different things to contribute to the team.
“The coaching staff is going to have to look at every player on a one-on-one basis and see who fits in best with our core of the team,” he added.
Strachan also is not letting their early success give anyone any grand illusions about being the best team in the league.
“There’s things we can improve on. We had lulls in our own end and I think we can be a little stronger playing the man and getting the puck over the blueline. We seemed to turn it over quite a bit,” Strachan noted.
“By all means do we not feel we have a championship team yet.”
Strachan added he was very impressed with the Fort Frances turnout, who were a loud majority of the 450 people who watched Sunday’s final against the Yellow Jackets.
“It was great. There was a lot of our family and friends, but there [also] were people out here that I see around town that had no connections with the team.
“The support of [team owners] Couchiching [First Nation] has been phenomenal also,” he stressed.