THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – A Ryan Mignault goal 11:36 into the first overtime was the difference as the Thunder Bay North Stars edged the Thief River Falls Norskies 3-2 Monday evening in Game 5 of their Superior International Junior Hockey League semifinal at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
With the result Thunder Bay wins the best-of-seven series 4-1 and will now move on to meet the defending SIJHL champion Dryden GM Ice Dogs in the Bill Salonen Cup final.
Also, as Dryden is hosting the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A Championship, May 1-5, the North Stars will also advance to compete in the four-team event as the second SIJHL representative.
They’ll be joined by the title holders of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the DHC winner advancing to the RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A Championship, May 12-20 in Chilliwack, B.C.
In Monday’s match-up, a first period man advantage helped Thief River Falls open the scoring as Cody Aarvig notched his initial tally of the playoffs at 14:39 with assists going to Brett Piper and Parker Simonson.
From there it went scoreless through the remainder of the frame as well as all of the second stanza.
Going to the power play, Thunder Bay would draw level nine minutes into the third period as Keighan Gerrie snapped a shot, from close range, over the shoulder of Norskies’ netminder Bailey Schmitz.
Back to the man advantage in the latter stages of regulation, Kyle Auger lifted one from the right point that went through a crowd and found its way past Schmitz at 16:31.
Battling back, Thief River Falls pulled their goalkeeper for an extra attacker and were rewarded with the equalizer with 100 seconds remaining as Connor Bowey whipped a shot from the top of the right face-off circle that sailed into the top of the net to send the contest to extra time.
Moving on to OT both teams had man advantage opportunities that neither would capitalize on.
However back at full strength, the North Stars would win it and take the series after breaking out of their own zone, Mignault drove to the net, did a quick stop in front, and as Schmitz slid past he lifted in the series-winning goal to send Thunder Bay to their first SIJHL final since 2010, where ironically they played Dryden.
The North Stars went on to claim the crown that year and win their league-record fifth league title.
Brandon Bodnar made 27 saves to earn the win for Thunder Bay while Schmitz faced 40 shots in the season-ending setback for the Norskies.
NOTE: A huge thank you to the Norskies and the passionate hockey fans of Thief River Falls who raised $7,000 U.S. at Monday’s game, which will all be donated to the Humboldt Broncos Fund.
No. 2 Thief River Falls Norskies vs. No. 3 Thunder Bay North Stars
Thunder Bay wins best-of-seven series 4-1
Game 1: Thief River Falls 2 Thunder Bay 1
Game 2: Thunder Bay 2 Thief River Falls 0
Game 3: Thunder Bay 5 Thief River Falls 2
Game 4: Thunder Bay 4 Thief River Falls 2
Game 5: Thunder Bay 3 Thief River Falls 2 (OT)
Photo credit: Allison Garrigan