THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The 17th edition of the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Bill Salonen Cup begins tonight as long-time rivals; the Dryden GM Ice Dogs and Thunder Bay North Stars renew acquaintances at Memorial Arena at 7:30 p.m. CT in Game 1 of the final.
Dryden enters the best-of-seven series as the defending SIJHL champions while the North Stars are making their first Bill Salonen Cup appearance since 2010.
SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup Final (Series E)
No. 1 Dryden GM Ice Dogs vs. No. 3 Thunder Bay North Stars
Game 1: Saturday, April 14 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. CT (Memorial)
Game 2: Sunday, April 15 @ Dryden 4 p.m. CT (Memorial)
Game 3: Tuesday, April 17 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. ET (Gardens)
Game 4: Wednesday, April 18 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. ET (Gardens)
Game 5*: Friday, April 20 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. CT (Memorial)
Game 6*: Saturday, April 21 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. ET (Gardens)
Game 7*: Monday, April 23 @ Dryden 7:30 p.m. CT (Memorial)
*- if necessary
OLD FOES: This marks the fifth time in SIJHL history that Dryden and Thunder Bay are meeting in the Bill Salonen Cup final.
The North Stars hold the edge having won three of the previous four meetings claiming the title in 2004, 2006 and 2010 while the Ice Dogs lone triumph came back 2008.
BACK AGAIN: This marks Dryden’s SIJHL-record 10th Bill Salonen Cup appearance in league history while the North Stars are here for the eighth time.
The GM Ice Dogs have three SIJHL championships to their credit while Thunder Bay boasts a league-best five titles.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Dryden advanced to their latest league final by finishing first overall in the SIJHL standings, then after a first-round bye, defeated the Fort Frances Lakers in five games in semifinal action.
Thunder Bay meanwhile swept the Minnesota Iron Rangers in three straight in quarter-final play before going on and topping the Thief River Falls Norskies in semifinal play.
After dropping the series opener on the road to the Norskies, the North Stars reeled off four straight wins to advance.
SEASON SET: The two teams met 10 times during the regular season with Dryden taking the series there by winning five times, losing three in regulation and two more in overtime.
Before the league’s holiday break, the GM Ice Dogs went 4-0-2-0 vs. the North Stars while action in the second half of the campaign saw Thunder Bay have the edge with a trio of victories against one shootout setback.
ABOUT THE CUP: The SIJHL championship trophy is named after Mr. Bill Salonen.
This long-time hockey man is a life member of Hockey Northwestern Ontario and is also an honoured member of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
He hails from Dryden and also served as the town’s mayor previously.
Salonen is a widely respected individual who has volunteered countless years in sport and otherwise in the region for the benefit of those in northwestern Ontario.
BILL SALONEN CUP BREAKDOWN: Here’s a breakdown of the previous 16 Bill Salonen Cup finals
|YEAR: SIJHL CHAMPION||FINALIST|
|2002: Dryden Ice Dogs||Fort Frances Borderland Thunder|
|2003: Fort Frances Borderland Thunder||Thunder Bay Bulldogs|
|2004: Fort William North Stars||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2005: Fort William North Stars||Fort Frances Borderland Thunder|
|2006: Fort William North Stars||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2007: Schreiber North Stars||Fort William North Stars|
|2008: Dryden Ice Dogs||Fort William North Stars|
|2009: Fort William North Stars||Thunder Bay Bearcats|
|2010: Fort William North Stars||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2011: Wisconsin Wilderness||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2012: Wisconsin Wilderness||Fort Frances Lakers|
|2013: Wisconsin Wilderness||Fort Frances Lakers|
|2014: Fort Frances Lakers||Minnesota Iron Rangers|
|2015: Fort Frances Lakers||Dryden GM Ice Dogs|
|2016: Fort Frances Lakers||Dryden GM Ice Dogs|
|2017: Dryden GM Ice Dogs||English River Miners|
WHAT’S NEXT: As Dryden is also hosting this year’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup, both they and Thunder Bay will compete in that four-team event which runs May 1-5 at Memorial Arena.
Joining the two SIJHL sides will be the winners of both the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The NOJHL Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy began Friday with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians edging the Cochrane Crunch 2-1 in overtime on a penalty shot goal.
As for the OJHL, their Buckland Trophy final also began Friday evening with the Wellington Dukes slipping past the defending league champion Georgetown Raiders 4-3, also in extra time.
The Dudley-Hewitt Cup winner will move on to represent the Central Region at the RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A Championship.
That five-team event will run May 12-20 in Chilliwack, B.C.
ONLINE VIEWING: All SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup games will be streamed live online at HockeyTV.com.
THE TEAMS: DRYDEN GM ICE DOGS
RECORD: Dryden finished first overall in the SIJHL standings for a second straight season after finishing with 88 points on a 40-8-6-2 record.
The GM Ice Dogs enter the Bill Salonen Cup final having gone 4-1 in the playoffs to date.
POINT MEN: Like he did during the course of the regular season, SIJHL MVP Jacen Bracko, leads the GM Ice Dogs is playoff scoring.
Through his club’s first five postseason contests, Bracko has registered eight points on six goals and two assists.
His tally total ties him for the league lead in that department.
Joining Bracko with eight points is first-year forward Malcom Huemmert, another rookie in Evan Walls and defenceman Cory Dennis.
Huemmert has notched four markers and has helped set-up four others while Walls has tallied three times and added five helpers while Dennis has two goals and six assists.
10 different Dryden skaters have two or more points in the playoffs entering the finals.
Dennis sits seconds in playoff scoring among league defencemen.
Teammate Brendan Jay is third in this category with a half-dozen points to his credit as he has doled out six assists in his first five playoff games.
GOALTENDERS: Both Jacob Gnidziejko and Landon Pavlisin saw time in net for Dryden in their series triumph over the Fort Frances Lakers.
Gnidziejko went 3-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage.
Pavlisin meanwhile won his lone start against the Lakers making 24 saves on 26 shots against.
SPECIAL TEAMS: In the series win vs. Fort Frances, Dryden converted at a 23.1% success rate on the power play as they scored six times on 26 chances. That puts them third in the league.
They are also third on the penalty kill. They’ve handled six of the 31 times they’ve been down a man, a P.K. rate of 83.9%.
BEHIND THE BENCH: Guiding the GM Ice Dogs behind the bench is their head coach Kurt Walsten.
THE TEAMS: THUNDER BAY NORTH STARS
RECORD: The North Stars finished third in the SIJHL standings in 2017-18 going 38-13-4-1.
They were however the hottest team in the league the second half of the season finishing up with a record of 22-3-1-1.
They are also 7-1 in the playoffs entering the finals giving them 29 victories in their past 35 outings.
POINT MEN: Thunder Bay boasts four of the five top point getters in the playoffs to date.
Bradley Thrower leads the way with 12 points in eight games on four goals and eight assists.
Ryan Mignault is right behind him with 11 points as he has tallied six times and helped set-up five more.
Kyle Auger is tied with Mignault while his totals lead all SIJHL defencemen in offensive numbers.
SIJHL Rookie of the Year Keighan Gerrie tops all first-year skaters in production with 10 points.
THE GOALTENDERS: Brandon Bodnar has started seven of Thunder Bay’s first eight playoff games and boasts a 6-1 record.
Bodnar, who was earlier named, the league’s top netminder for 2017-18, sports a SIJHL-best 1.54 average while his .944 save mark is second overall in playoff numbers.
He also leads in shutouts with two, which gives him 10 on the year, including regular season action.
Dougie Newhouse won his lone postseason start to date as his efforts helped close out the club’s first round series triumph over the Minnesota Iron Rangers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Thunder Bay enters the Bill Salonen Cup final first overall in power play proficiency at 26.7%.
They’ve scored 12 times with the man advantage in 45 opportunities.
The North Stars sit second on the penalty kill at 92.7% allowing three against on the 41 times they have been shorthanded.
BEHIND THE BENCH: Serving in his first year behind the North Stars bench is SIJHL Coach of the Year Rob DeGagne.