Lakehead's Scott Gall chases down Thunder Bay's Alex Erwin on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com)

Thunderwolves down North Stars in Christmas clash

By Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com

THUNDER BAY – It’s been six years since Daniel Del Paggio suited up for the Thunder Bay North Stars.

He’d never once played against them.

“It was a unique experience,” the Lakehead Thunderwolves forward said on Sunday night, after his team captured the Battle of the Bay, downing a North Stars team reinforced with a few of his current teammates 5-1 at Fort William Gardens.

The shorthanded Stars were filling in for the Nipissing Lakers, whose charter cancelled at the last minute, forcing them to opt out of a pair of OUA non-conference games scheduled for Sunday and Monday night in Thunder Bay.

“It kind of felt awkward or odd at first, but it was a fun event and we all thank (them) for putting on an event for us,” Del Paggio said, happy to get back on the ice after a month away from competition, the OUA regular season ready to re-launch on Friday on the road against Guelph.

“I think we did well, for the most part. Obviously we’re a little rusty.”

Neither side was able to light the lamp in the opening period, though the Thunderwolves held a decided 18-8 advantage in the shot department, peppering LU back-up Brock Aiken with chance after chance in the North Stars net.

Tomas Soustal, who had a pair of helpers on the night, was the spark behind the game’s first goal. Soustal circled behind Aiken and spied a charging Callum Fryer, who one-timed the puck into the Thunder Bay net at the 3:56 mark of the middle stanza.

Del Paggio doubled the lead at 13:16, taking a cross-crease pass from Soustal and shovelling it five-hole on Aiken.

The Wolves made it 3-0 with 55 seconds to go in the period when Dexter Kuczek unleashed a rising wrist shot from the left circle that fooled Aiken.

But the North Stars got the last laugh of the period.

Captain Logan Mihalcin turned and fired as the clock wound down, the puck finding its way past LU goaltender Nic Renyard with just eight-tenths of a second left.

“It was a lucky shot,” said Mihalcin, who has three goals in 26 Superior International Junior Hockey League games this season.

Still, it was a chance for the Stars, who top the SIJHL standings at the season’s half-way mark, to test their skills against a better club.

“Obviously they’re bigger and stronger, but it was just nice for us to play a higher level of competition. I think we did good tonight. The boys battled hard. This weekend is just about battling and doing our best,” Mihalcin said.

Brett Wolframe, Patrick Murphy, Aaron Wesley-Chisel, Daniel McKitrick, Cooper Leitch and Caleb Boman joined the Stars on Sunday night, and at times all 12 players on the ice were donning a Thunderwolves uniform.

They helped the Stars outshoot the Thunderwolves 21-17 in the second, but unfortunately the momentum from the last-second goal didn’t carry over to the third.

Veteran forward Scott Gall added a pair of goals in the final period for Lakehead as the Thunderwolves pulled away for a four-goal win.

Thunder Bay coach Rob DeGagne said he told his players the only difference they’d notice was the speed.

“They make the same mistakes we do. They’re just older kids. They’re men. They’re a little more polished and pass a little harder and skate a little faster. But I thought for the most part we competed. We had our chances. We hit a few cross bars. I thought it was good,” DeGagne said.

Cody Bruchkowski, the SIJHL’s leading scorer, had a pair of breakaway chances, and Jett Leishman stole the puck from LU’s Taylor Egan midway through the third, only to have Renyard turn aside the scoring chance.

The two teams will face off again on Monday night. Lakehead coach Andrew Wilkins said they will likely loan a few different players to the North Stars for the rematch.

“Robbie and I are going to talk, and we’ll figure out a roster. We’ll switch it up,” he said.

FIRST PERIOD
Scoring: None. Penalties: None.

SECOND PERIOD
Scoring: 1. Lakehead, Fryer (Soustal) 3:56. 2. Lakehead, Del Paggio (Soustal, King) 13:16. 3. Lakehead, Kuczek (Larson) 19:05. 4. Thunder Bay, Mihalcin (A. Erwin, Bruchkowski) 19:59. Penalties: Soustal LAK (slashing) 6:36.

THIRD PERIOD
Scoring: 5. Lakehead, Gall (Laframboise, Smith) 11:22. 6. Lakehead., Gall (King) 17:18. Penalties: Mihalcin TB (contact to head) 14:49.

GAME DATA – Shots on Goal – Thunder Bay 8-21-12-41, Lakehead 18-17-16-51; Power plays (goals-chances) – Thunder Bay (0-1), Lakehead (0-1); Goaltenders – Thunder Bay: Brock Aiken, Lakehead: Nic Renyard; Attendance: 1,402.