Thunder set sights on Ice Dogs

The Borderland Thunder are getting set to rekindle their season-long rivalry with the Dryden Ice Dogs for all the marbles—the inaugural SIJHL crown.
The best-of-seven series opens here Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Game 2, originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, now will be played at 7:30 p.m. instead
Games 3 and 4 will go Wednesday and Thursday in Dryden.
Borderland went 5-2-3 against the Ice Dogs during the regular season, although all but two of the games were decided by two goals or less.
“It’s going to be a great series,” Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan said. “If you look back on the series through the year, it was back and forth.”
Despite almost blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs in the semi-finals, Strachan said the same things will have to come through to find success against Dryden.
“It’s probably going to come down to special teams and whose goalie is the hottest,” he noted.
The Thunder lead all playoff teams in power-play percentage (11 for 39) and penalty kills (22 for 26), while goalie Rob Hrabec has the best save percentage (.934) and goals-against-average (1.87).
“Rob’s been playing great for us,” said Thunder centre Matt Johnson, who scored 11 points (five goals/six assists) against the Bulldogs in the regular season to pace his team.
“It’s going to be a battle for sure. I think home ice will really decide this,” he added.
Dryden comes into the final as the hottest team in the league. Since Larry Wintoneak took over as head coach for Al Trotz on Feb. 11, the Ice Dogs went 8-2-1 to finish in third place after the regular season before sweeping the second-place Feathermen Hawks in the semi-finals.
“I think it’s an even match,” agreed Wintoneak, a former coach of both Strachan and Thunder assistant Shane Bliss with the Thunder Bay Flyers in the early-1990s. “I don’t know whose got the advantage here.
“[But] we do respect the Thunder’s power play. We don’t fear it, but we have a lot of respect for it. If you’re undisciplined, they’ll make you pay,” he remarked.
Dryden forward Mike English has been both a pain on both the scoreboard and between whistles for opponents. He had eight points and 24 penalty minutes in four games against the Hawks, and was at the centre of an all-out brawl with the Thunder in Dryden on Feb. 6.
“He’s an instigator. If he doesn’t play that way, that team’s not successful,” said Strachan. “We’re going to have to expect it out of him and stay disciplined.”
The winner of this series will move on to the Dudley Hewitt Cup final against the champion from the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey Association in a best-of-three affair, with a berth to the Royal Bank Cup on the line.
The NOJHA semi-finals began earlier this week.