Thunder plant doubt in North Stars’ psyche

“I live this life until this life won’t let me live here anymore.”—Big & Rich (Live This Life)
Tyler Gordon held a puck in his hand. Nothing fancy, just a $1 piece of rubber polymer. But this one was special. This one was different.
After a horribly exhausting few weeks for Gordon and his family, the Borderland Thunder goalie bounced back and played with fearless abandonment.
He stretched his abilities and controlled his emotions to help his team go toe-to-toe with the Fort William First Nation North Stars this past Friday night at the Ice for Kids Arena.
And he had the puck to prove it.
Gordon had just played one of the best games of his hockey career, earning a 0-0 shutout by stopping all 38 shots fired by the North Stars—the 13th-ranked Junior ‘A’ team in the country and who had scored at least three goals in any game they played.
“I keep every shutout puck,” said Gordon, who now has six on the season (the most of any Canadian Junior Hockey League goalie) while being ranked 13th in goals against average (2.17).
What’s even more impressive is that Gordon only has played a fraction of games the other top goalies in the CJHL have (he had been sharing duties between the pipes with Tim Higbee, who is now playing in Manitoba).
But Friday night was different than other games for Gordon. He had missed most of the week after spending time with his family in Sioux Lookout to grieve the loss of his grandmother to cancer.
This was his first game back from the funeral.
“You could tell that I had been away for a few days, and I really took it upon myself this morning [Friday] to battle through it and just think about the game,” he said.
“I was fairly close with my grandma, and being one of the pallbearers was tough,” added Gordon, who started to make more sense of the chorus from a Big & Rich country song he often listens to.
“It really puts things in perspective,” he remarked. “[But] the guys made me feel really good around here. If I needed anything, they were always there.”
As gratitude, Gordon was there for his teammates when they needed him the most. The North Stars—the cream of the SIJHL—had come into the game with a fantastic 27-1-1 record to the Thunder’s equally impressive 24-5-2 mark.
In their previous five meetings, the North Stars had won three by convincing margins. And because of the likelihood the two teams will meet come playoff time, it was necessary for the Thunder to give the North Stars some doubts—and give themselves a Rocky Balboa-ish mentality.
“They got to look inside themselves and say, ‘Do I really want to be a pretender or are we going to be a contender as a team?” said Thunder head coach Dave Allison.
On a bitterly cold night outside, the Thunder turned the heat up on the North Stars inside as they posted 32 shots of their own against the CJHL’s best all-around goalie in Viktor Saari, who sported a 1.23 GAA and .946 save percentage after the 0-0 tie.
“They have the best offence in the league and to keep them to no goals, that’s something great,” said Thunder defenceman David Gooch.
But even after the impressive all-around effort by the Thunder, which originated from Gordon and trickled down to his linemates, Allison was not overly pleased with his team’s outing as he expects more, especially at this juncture in the season.
“That’s a team that knows how to battle, and we’re just starting to learn how to battle without taking penalties,” he noted. “Once we learn how to battle without taking penalties, I really think we’ll take another step in the right direction.
“They’re very smart [but] we’ve got to be smarter than them,” Allison stressed. “Gordon gave us some confidence, but other guys have got to take what he’s doing and start to bail him out.
“I didn’t think our forwards were particularly good tonight [Friday]. I didn’t think they battled hard enough,” he added.
It was a different story for the North Stars here Saturday night, scoring on their first shot on Kevin Kauk, who got the nod in goal for the Thunder, then added a power-play goal late in the first period en route to a 4-0 win.
And though the toilet flushing sound-effect may have been heard over the P.A. system by the fans on hand (as the tally wasn’t the most impressive of shots), a goal is still a goal.
“Three of the four goals were soft, [but] you’ve got to rise to the occasion,” said Allison. “We just got to learn from it. We can’t let their good play, and their will and want, and their volition to win, get us out of our game.”
“It doesn’t matter if you get 40 shots on net if they’re all from the outside,” added Thunder captain Josh McAndrew. “They didn’t have too many great chances, but the ones they had they scored on.”
The North Stars put up 45 shots while the Thunder managed only 21 in a game that shone the spotlight on the Thunder’s anemic offence of late.
“Gordon pitches a shutout, and Kevin would’ve had to pitch a shutout, so we’ve got to generate some offence,” said Allison, who singled out the Tanner Kaemingh, Andrew Perrault, and Brock Harling line as the Thunder’s best of the night.
The Thunder, now 24-6-3 on the season, will make the trek to Dryden tonight. They have yet to lose to the Ice Dogs this season and will be looking to come out strong before facing the North Stars here again the following weekend (Feb. 4-5)
“Right now we’re trying to figure out who we are,” said Allison.
“Guys have got to start stepping up to play,” he stressed. “I don’t care if the kid is 16 or 20 years old. This is the time to step it up and say, ‘I want to play in these situations.’”