Thunder ready to roar as Dudley-Hewitt Cup beckons

Hosting a provincial championship carries its fair share of joys and headaches.
Teams that know they’ll be at the big dance—regardless of their regular-season performance—frequently struggle to meet their potential knowing the pot of gold still is waiting at the end of the rainbow.
But new head coach Dave Allison said his Borderland Thunder hockey club should be fine if the players remember why the games in September mean as much as those in the spring.
“Every time they go on the ice, it’s an audition,” said Allison, whose team—as the host squad—already has qualified for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup this season to determine which provincial Tier II team will advance to the Royal Bank Cup national championship May 3-11 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
“Wren Blair, who was my boss in Kingston, didn’t go to Parry Sound to scout Bobby Orr and [Orr] turned out to be one of the greatest players in the game.
“With the proximity of U.S. colleges to us, as well as the contacts we have in the Ontario Hockey League, you never know who could be in the crowd,” Allison stressed.
The Thunder are looking to rebound from being swept by the Dryden Ice Dogs in the Superior International Junior Hockey League final last April after posting a league-best 28-11-9 record during their inaugural season.
Replacing last year’s bench boss Wayne Strachan, who is returning to the team as an assistant to general manager Brent Tookenay, Allison is prepared for the adjustment phase he and his players will go through.
“There’s a feeling out period for everybody,” he remarked. “You can only control yourself. As long as everyone shows the three intangibles of work, think, and help out, we’ll be fine.”
One change Allison already has implemented is the introduction of 8:30 a.m. practices in contrast to last year’s regular evening sessions.
“It allows the kids to work practice into their school schedules and makes it easier on the guys who get off work late.
“It gets people up in the morning as part of a regular routine. That will help them for their whole lives, whether it be for work or school,” he added.
It will be a veteran club under Allison’s command this year, but one that will have to overcome concerns up front and between the pipes.
“We’ve got good depth on defence,” he remarked. “We need to improve our depth at forward, and wait and see what we’ve got in goal.
“I think we’ve got a good mix of size and speed, and we want to play an up-tempo style with an emphasis on establishing our forecheck,” he remarked.
The main masked man for the Thunder this year will be second-year player Tom Iwaniec, who has to fill the large skates of last year’s starter Rob Hrabec after posting an 8-5-3 record and a 2.85 goals-against average in a backup role.
He’ll look for help from what Allison calls a physical blueline corps that is missing two important pieces due to injury.
David Lloyd is still two-three weeks away from playing as he nurses an aggravated sciatic nerve in his back. Fellow blueliner Ryan Hampton sustained a concussion in an off-season soccer tournament and is out indefinitely.
“We’ve got to sort out our eight healthy defencemen, and look for the guys willing to work to improve and compete,” said Allison.
The forward unit also will be short one key ingredient as 20-year-old Aaron Grynol recovers from a shoulder/rotator cuff injury over the next two-three weeks.
“Aaron’s going to be an impact player for us,” said Allison. “I think all the guys complement each other well. You can’t be a one-person or one-line team.”
The Thunder will get their first test this week when the SIJHL’s pre-season Showcase Tournament runs Thursday through Sunday at the Ice for Kids Arena.
The host squad will join the Fort William Wolves and Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs in the ‘A’ pool while the Ice Dogs, Northwest Wisconsin Knights, Nipigon Hawks, and St. Paul Lakers comprise the ‘B’ pool.
“I think the tourney’s an excellent idea,” said Allison. “It lets everyone see other teams’ players, in case you want to make a move later in the season, and it also helps you see where you stack up [against the competition].
“It’s a chance for people in the Borderland area to see some good amateur hockey,” he added.
The Thunder will open play against the Hawks at noon tomorrow and then meet the Lakers at 7:30 p.m.
Their lone game Friday pits the Thunder against the Knights while Saturday brings a rematch against their nemesis from Dryden. Both games are slated for 7:30 p.m.
The championship game—pitting the top team from each pool—is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m.