Thunder look to knock out frustrated Bulldogs

The five-day break in the semi-final series between the Borderland Thunder and Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs will do little to quell the growing rivalry between the two teams.
The Thunder hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven showdown as they face-off against the Bulldogs for Games 3 and 4 tonight and tomorrow night at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.
Game 5, if necessary, will come back here Saturday night.
After watching his team easily handle the Bulldogs 7-1 here last Thursday and then 4-1 on Friday, Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan said a sweep is possible but not a guarantee.
“Obviously it would be nice to end it early,” he said. “But you know anything can happen. We’re just looking forward to that third game [tonight].
“We know what we have to do and we’re going to take care of business,” he added.
The Thunder aren’t nearly as effective on the road, going 11-10-3 in regular-season play—including a 2-3 record against the Bulldogs at the Gardens.
But with the Thunder in the driver’s seat so far, Bulldogs head coach Brian Vescio said that record doesn’t mean anything because his team could be all but eliminated with a loss tonight.
“[Tonight is] almost a must win. We play well at home. We just have to go one game at a time,” Vescio stressed. “I feel good about going home. [The Thunder] earned [home-ice advantage] and they came out of it like they were supposed to.
“Now it’s our turn.”
Whatever happens, Strachan is confident he has the better athletes to finish the series strong.
“Our team is in good shape,” he remarked. “If it’s a long series or short series, I think it favours us because we’re in pretty good condition.”
Dominant play by the Thunder in the first two games here sparked flashes of frustration on the Bulldogs’ part, who took a total of 158 minutes in penalties overall, including six minor infractions during the third period Friday when the Thunder were only up 3-1.
“It was frustrating,” said Vescio.
Things continued to get sticky when the two teams played line-change tag with their respective tough guys—Troy Arnold for the Thunder and Lee Antoniak for the Bulldogs—after Borderland goalie Rob Hrabec was hit after the whistle down the stretch of Game 2.
Arnold and Antoniak never managed to get on the ice together to the dismay of the Ice for Kids Arena crowd.
“Throughout the game, I felt they were taking cheap shots everywhere. After [Bulldogs centre Tom Grant] ran our goalie, I guess I had enough and Troy was out there to do his job,” noted Strachan.
“It’s something you have to do. We have to protect Robbie. He’s one of the backbones of our team.”
But Vescio didn’t see it that way.
“It looked like [Strachan] wanted to get [Arnold] on the ice right away. That’s not needed, really,” he said. “[But] those things happen in the course of a series.”
On the scoresheet, the Thunder scored timely goals in bunches to put the Bulldogs away early in Thursday’s opener. Matt Johnson and Dallas Mosbeck scored in a 32-second span in the first period while goals by Jay Philips and Kevin Webb in the second came only 14 seconds apart.
Chad Baldwin added two goals and Ryan Hilfer scored one to round out the scoring.
Webb, Kyle Prystupa, and Johnson (two) scored in Friday’s win. Johnson led the Thunder attack with six points (three goals/three assists) over the two games.
Thunder Bay’s Derek Hossana netted both goals for the visitors.
In related news, the third-place Dryden Ice Dogs look to make quick work of the second-place Feathermen Hawks in the other SIJHL semi-final.
The Ice Dogs won 3-2 on Friday and then 7-3 on Saturday at the Fort William First Nations Arena to grab a 2-0 lead of their own.
Games 3 and 4 of that best-of-seven series go this Friday and Saturday at the Dryden Recreation Centre.