Former North Star defenceman Kyle Auger can't put the puck past Thunder Bay's Jordan Smith on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 as the Thunderwolves fell 3-2 at Fort William Gardens. (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com)

North Stars edge Thunderwolves in shootout

SIJHL club, their lineup boosted with six Thunderwolves players, edge Lakehead 3-2 to split holiday non-conference series.

By: Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com

THUNDER BAY — Knowledge is power – especially in a shootout.

Bearing down on his former teammate, Brock Aiken, Thunder Bay North Stars forward Jacob Anttonen put that theory to the test on Monday night.

Knowing Aiken was familiar with his shootout routine, Anttonen said he decided to break from tradition in search of an advantage.

It worked.

Anttonen, the first up after a seven-minute, three-on-three overtime period solved nothing, went high on Aiken, the puck ringing off the crossbar with just enough momentum to carry it over the goal line before the first-year goaltender could catch up with it.

The goal proved to be the only one of the shootout as the reinforced North Stars exacted a bit of revenge in the second game of their holiday series, edging the OUA Thunderwolves 3-2.

“I was a little nervous going first, but I kind of overcame that. I knew Brock knew my move from last year, so I thought I’d change things up and try to pick the corner instead of going five-hole and it worked,” Anttonen said.

You’ve got to be lucky sometimes to win, said North Stars coach Rob DeGagne, who evened his record against OUA competition at 1-1.

“It didn’t look like anybody was going to score, these two goaltenders played so good,” DeGagne said. “They’re great goaltenders, but it was nice to get the win.”

Anttonen might have gotten credit for the game-winner, but the Stars wouldn’t have been close to sniffing overtime if it wasn’t for goaltender Jordan Smith, who arrived home from Mexico on Monday morning, a snowstorm preventing his flight from landing on Sunday as scheduled.

Smith, drafted by the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes in 2017, stopped 41 of 43 shots directed his way and might have been at his absolute best in the extra frame, stoning former North Stars forward Brendan Wolframe and Dexter Kuczek from point-blank range moments apart in overtime.

“Smitty had three big saves in a row on some pretty big shooters,” DeGagne said, adding his team played with passion and heart.

“He’s a big man. He’s played great for us this year. We’ve used him a lot, so he was a bit tired. I told him he should go to Mexico every second week.”

The North Stars got a boost in round two, the Thunderwolves shipping over their entire top line, in Daniel Del Paggio, Jordan King and Tomas Soustal.

The move paid dividends in a hurry for Thunder Bay, Del Paggio firing a shot through traffic from the high slot that Aiken couldn’t contain, the goal coming just 99 seconds into the Fort William Gardens contest.

Geoff Dempster tied things up with 25 seconds to go in the first, banging home the puck in traffic in front of Smith.

The Stars retook the lead 1:02 into the second, when Jacob Brown, the second-leading point-getter in the Superior International Junior Hockey League, rattled the puck off LU’s Troy Williams and into the Thunderwolves net.

But Daniel McKitrick, who suited up for the Stars the night before, evened things up again two-and-a-half minutes later, redirecting a Kuczek pass behind Smith, what proved to be the final goal in regulation.

The Wolves had their chances in the third, Kyle Auger coming the closest to scoring, only to hit the post seven minutes in.

Soustal had the best chance to win it in overtime, but a sprawling Aiken somehow managed to get his stick on the shot toward the wide-open net with 30 seconds to go.

Lakehead’s Brendan Martin, Josh Laframboise and Auger could not solve Smith in the shootout.

The Wolves head to Guelph on Friday and Saturday, while the North Stars host Dryden on Saturday night.

FIRST PERIOD
Scoring: 1. Thunder Bay, Del Paggio (Wesley-Chisel, Mihalcin) 1:39. 2. Lakehead, Dempster (Leitch) 19:35. Penalties: King TB (tripping) 13:25.

SECOND PERIOD
Scoring: 3. Thunder Bay, Brown (Bruchkowski) 1:02. 4. Thunder Bay, McKitrick (Kuczek, Larson) 3:35. Penalties: Murphy TB (tripping) 9:24.

THIRD PERIOD
Scoring: None. Penalties: None.

OVERTIME
Scoring: None. Penalties: None.

SHOOTOUT

Thunder Bay: Anttonen (Goal)
Lakehead: Martin (save)
Thunder Bay: Brown (save)
Lakehead: Laframboise (save)
Thunder Bay: Bruchkowski (save)
Lakehead: Auger (save)

GAME DATA – Shots on Goal – Thunder Bay 9-10-8-2-29, Lakehead 16-9-14-4-43; Power plays (goals-chances) – Thunder Bay (0-0), Lakehead (0-2); Goaltenders – Thunder Bay: Jordan Smith, Lakehead: Brock Aiken; Attendance: 1,386.