THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The Superior International Junior Hockey League’s second semifinal features the No. 2 seeded Red Lake Miners going up against the No. 3 Thief River Falls Norskies, in a best-of-seven affair, that begins Thursday night at Cochenour Arena in Red Lake at 7:30 p.m. CT.
Here’s a glance at how the two teams shape up heading into the opener.
HOW THEY ARRIVED: Red Lake finished second overall in the SIJHL standings in 2018-19, going 38-15-3-0 for 79 points while Thief River Falls ended up in third spot, posting a 31-20-4-1 mark.
The Miners also wrapped up the campaign on a roll, going 7-0-1 in their last eight outings.
With their second-place finish, Red Lake earned a first round bye while the Norskies took on the Minnesota Iron Rangers in quarter-final play where they skated to a three-game sweep.
Leading Thief River Falls in offensive production against the Iron Rangers was the trio of Boe Bjorge, Bryce Johnson and Brett Piper.
Bjorge racked up nine points, including seven assists, while Johnson and Piper picked up eight points apiece.
Goaltender Bailey Schmitz started all three contests vs. Minnesota and had a trio of victories, including a shutout, while posting a 1.33 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.
1ST TIME: This match-up will be the first-ever playoff meeting between the two sides.
In eight series in their time in the SIJHL, the Miners have won three on them and lost five, winning 12 games in total against 23 defeats.
As for the third-year Norskies, they are 1-2 in postseason series while going 5-7 overall in a dozen playoff contests.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Regular season play saw Red Lake and Thief River Falls tangle 11 times with the Miners coming away with victories in seven of those meetings.
The Norskies did however outscore the Miners by a 41-37 count.
SCORING: Led by forward Bryce Young, who notched the second-most goals in a single season in SIJHL history, with 60, the Miners supplied 278 tallies this season.
Young went on to register 101 points and topped all SIJHL players in both power play and shorthanded markers with 15 and seven respectively.
He also tied with the Norskies Boe Bjorge for sixth in game-winners with five.
Red Lake captain Michael Di Lullo also had a career year setting personal bests in goals, assists and points with 33, 42 and 75.
His 75 points put him eighth in SIJHL scoring.
Meanwhile, Shaye Sommerfeld, Kyle Uzelman and Spencer Milne were all point-per-game producers for the Miners.
Sommerfeld collected 53 points in 45 games while Uzelman had 52 in 51 contests and Milne the same total, but in just 39 contests. Uzelman was also notched 20 tallies and the other two had 18 each.
The top point getter among Miners’ defencemen was Keilan Toews who supplied three goals and 37 assists in 43 games while Dante Tisi had 36 points and Cole Bohnet had 28.
Boe Bjorge led Thief River Falls in scoring in 2018-19 with 81 points as he scored 29 times and helped set-up 52 others, which was good enough to put him sixth overall in league scoring.
Blake Nelson and Brett Piper were next on the squad with 73 and 72 points respectively.
Piper’s 31 tallies paced the club.
On the point, veteran defenceman Connor Bowey had a career year finishing with personal bests in goals, assists and points with 16, 46 and 62. He also dished out five assists in the first round sweep of Minnesota.
GOALTENDERS: Between the pipes, Red Lake’s Zach Willms saw action in a SIJHL-high 2,086 minutes and was second in wins with 25.
His 2.88 goals-against average and .921 save percentage placed him third in the league in both categories while finishing tied for fourth in shutouts with two.
Willms’ netminding partner, in Vince Benedetto, produced 11 victories and posted one shutout.
As for Thief River Falls, Bailey Schmitz appeared in 34 games and went 24-6-4-1 while Fletcher Bolda sported a 13-11-0-0 record.
Schmitz was fourth in the league in average (2.94) and save mark (.910) while Bolda was just behind him in GAA (3.01) and save percentage (.909).
The Norskies duo combined for three shutouts.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Red Lake sported a 19.9% success rate on the power play this season, notching 51-man advantage markers in 256 opportunities, to place them second in the league.
As for Thief River Falls, they ended up fourth-best at 18.1%.
The Miners were also second on the penalty kill at 83.9% and the Norskies fifth at 81.7%.
Red Lake led the SIJHL in shorthanded goals with 17, including seven by Bryce Young, while Thief River Falls potted nine to end up fourth in that category.
The Norskies allowed four shorthanded goals against and the Miners gave up five.
TEAM NOTES: The Miners were second overall in goals scored with 278 while the Norskies were fourth with 224. … Thief River Falls was second in fewest goals allowed at 173 and Red Lake sat third at 193. … Each team produced 19 road wins this season. … While the Miners’ Bryce Young led the SIJHL in goals with 60, Boe Bjorge was fourth in assists with 52 while Connor Bowey ended up fifth with 46. … Michael Di Lullo led Red Lake in game-winning goals with six while Blake Nelson did likewise for TRF. … When scoring first in a game, the Miners went 27-4-2-0 and the Norskies were 24-8-2-0. … When leading after one period, Red Lake was 28-2-1-0 and 31-1-2-0 when up after 40 minutes. … Thief River Falls registered a 19-4-1-0 mark when ahead after one and were 23-4-1-0 when leading after the second stanza. … Spencer Milne of the Miners had a league-high 11-game assist streak during the season.
WHAT’S NEXT: The winner of this series will advance to the SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup Final where they will meet either the No. 1 Thunder Bay North Stars or No. 4 Dryden GM Ice Dogs for the league championship.
From there, the SIJHL winner holder will head to Cochrane, Ont., for the 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A Championship, April 30 – May 4, at the Tim Horton Events Centre.
The Dudley-Hewitt Cup victor will earn a berth at the Canadian National Jr. A Championship, May 11-19, in Brooks, Alta.
All SIJHL playoff contests are streamed live online and on demand at HockeyTV.com.
No. 2 Red Lake Miners vs. No. 3 Thief River Falls Norskies
Game 1: Thursday, March 28 @ Red Lake 7:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Game 2: Friday, March 29 @ Red Lake 7:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Game 3: Monday, April 1 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 4: Tuesday, April 2 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 5*: Friday, April 5 @ Red Lake 7:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Game 6*: Sunday, April 7 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 7*: Tuesday, April 9 @ Red Lake 7:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Photo credit: Patrick Boucha