SIJHL Playoff Preview #3 Thunder Bay vs #6 Wisconsin

By Gary Moskalyk

Wisconsin 16-26-7 39 pts .398 6th GF 167 GA 238 -71 PIMs 879 PP% 17.7 PK% 75.9 at Thunder Bay 32-12-5 69 pts .704 3rd GF 221 GA 153 +68 PIMs 794 PP% 20.4 PK% 81.6  

Head to head: WIS 1-6-0 TBN 6-0-1

Wisconsin enters the playoffs on an eight-game winless streak. A pair of home losses against Fort Frances were the latest setbacks. Fort Frances scored with three seconds left to win 6-5 last Friday, and the team lost 5-4 in a shootout Saturday. 

Dillon Phillips led the team in scoring, recording 65 points and 26 goals. He finished 4th in league scoring. Nolan Fowler had 44 points in 37 games, with 24 goals. 

Defenceman Ryan Kayser had 36 points, good for fourth among all rearguards. He added 118 penalty minutes to his scouting report. Kaden Postal had 33 points to finish in the top-40. Rookie Collin Baker had 18 goals and 11 helpers. Rookie Koen Burkholder, 23 points, Simon Davidson, 22 points, rookies Connor Corcoran, 22,   and Marshall Thomas, 20, were next in production.

In net, William Forrester and deadline acquisition Riley Burnett won the goaltending derby in Wisconsin. Forrester finished with a 5-12-3 record, with a 4.98 GAA and .890 SV% in 1,228 minutes. Burnett was 3-7-1 with a 5.38 GAA and .879 SV%.

Wisconsin was a more physical team to start the year. They settled in to 18.7 minutes per game at season’s end.  

The Lumberjacks’ games have the highest number of combined goals, averaging 8.57 per game between the themselves and their opponents.   

 Last year, the franchise took a leap forward with a seven-game series win over Sioux Lookout in the quarterfinals. 

Thunder Bay won six games against Wisconsin, and collected a point in a shootout loss. The Lumberjacks are winless in their last eight and are 1-7-2 in their last ten. Thunder Bay is 7-2-1 in their last 10. 

The Stars are injury free and suspension free entering the playoffs.

Five teams vied for top spot in the SIJHL this year. It was only recently that the teams separated. The North Stars claimed third spot, five points behind Sioux Lookout, five points ahead of Dryden, with a 32-12-5 overall.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years,” said Stars head coach Rob DeGagne. “It’s probably the most even it’s been in seven years. The parity in the league is great. Anybody can win. The keys to winning are you have to come to play. You have to play your best hockey every night.”

The Stars came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Dryden last year to win in the semi-finals, and took the SIJHL-champion Walleye to seven games in the finals. They had a better regular season this year than last.

Captain Edison Weeks won the scoring title with 76 points. His 49 helpers in 49 games led the league. EJ Paddington was second in production with 70 points and 32 goals. Rookie Easton Mikus had a 60-point season, joining the 30-goal club with 31. Tyler Jordan finished 12th in scoring with 51 points (28 goals).

Dimitri Trahiotis had 36 points (11G 25A) in 48 games. Cameron Dial came on in the second half after starting the season with no points in eight games. The 6-4, 220-lb defenceman from Shaker Heights, OH had four goals and 27 assists in 43 games at season’s end. 

Beau Helmeczi had 27 points and Alex Remenda was huge offensive piece in his 20 games with 11 goals, 15 assists and 26 points.

In net, Keenan Marks was 18-9-2 with a 3.11 goals against and .908 save percentage. Late season acquisition Ben Laurette was 9-0-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .922 SV%.

“Our guys are pretty confident. We had a good regular season. We’ve had some good long stretches of games where we won. We’ve beat everybody. It’s not like we haven’t beat anybody,” said DeGagne. “The teams ahead of us in the standings, Sioux Lookout, I think we’re .500 with them. The Walleye have a couple of games on us. It’s not like we’re not in the games. It’s not like we’re not there. We have a lot of confidence going into it. Kids are looking forward to it.”