Photos: Kerri-Ann Kanceruk
By Mike Ebbeling
Dryden, ON – It was an electric start to the SIJHL Semi-Final featuring two storied franchises as Dryden GM and Thunder Bay came out with plenty of energy and emotion. In what promises to be a hard-hitting series North Stars defenceman Matthew Halushak set the tempo on the opening faceoff catching 6’2, 225-pound Bryce Benefield with his head down at centre for a bone crunching hit. The teams would trade big hits after that. The feisty play would result in penalties as the North Stars had a couple of powerplays with both teams crashing the net disrupting the focus of Eric Cark and rookie Keenan Marks. The Ice Dogs also had chances on the man advantage with three opportunities. They would finally cash in with Mason Wesley taking a goaltender interference call as he collided with Clark who came out to play the puck. The top forward in the league would strike at 11:26 as Landen Stromme let go a laser beam that may have grazed a Thunder Bay defender who was preoccupied by a charging Ben Hackl beating a helpless Marks to make it 1-0. The North Stars quickly responded with a furious attack around the Dryden GM net. Jamie Fuchs thought he had the game tied with an open net but Clark, who was down and out sprawled over and stuck out his glove to make a highlight reel save and keep it 1 -0. The goalies were the story with Clark making 11 saves and Marks stopping 10 shots
The second period was no different with the two rivals throwing their bodies around, applying thundering hits and numerous goal mount scrums. Fans were also treated to about 6 minutes of end-to-end no stoppage play. Dryden GM came close on a couple of occasions with two posts and a huge save by Keenan Marks with some extra help by defenceman Sam Skillestad who saved a goal by diving back on an empty net. On the Thunder Bay side it was once again Jamie Fuchs feeling the frustration. On a 3-1 Fuchs used his two forwards as a decoy and buried a low shot opposite side on Clark who came way out of net to challenge and making a sweeping pad save to keep the Dryden GM lead in tact. The North Stars also came close near the end as the puck was mishandled by Clark falling behind him, but three Ice Dogs players were in the crease to keep it out. Dryden GM would outshoot Thunder Bay 8-6.
Chances in the third came fast and furious. Nikolas Campbell had the first opportunity hitting the post for Thunder Bay. Dryden GM would respond with a number of close opportunities that Keenan Marks managed to keep out. With the Ice Dogs down a defenceman with Jack Cullen suffering an injury late in the second. Thunder Bay would press. Liam Murdoch had the best chance as he took a North Stars bounce off the side boards and was wide open at the hashmarks, but he drilled the puck wide of the net. Dimitry Trahiotis also had a chance to tie things on the shorthanded, but Eric Clark managed to get a skateblade on it. Magnus Pearson thought he had a sure goal but a diving Elijah Pool stormed back out of nowhere to knock it away. The tide would change as it did all night long as Max Roby found a gap in front of the net, but he was robbed by a split glove save my Keenan Marks. The rookie goalie would follow that up with other big stops. As can be expected in a game like this it would come down to the final minute. With the goalie pulled Thunder Bay took advantage of a neutral zone breakdown and came down 3-on-2 on Eric Clark. Quick passing by Edison Weeks and Nikolas Campbell opened up a wide-open Jamie Fuchs and he out waited Clark to slide the puck in and tie it with only 20 seconds left. Final shots in regulation time were 30-24 in favour of the home team.
It was a more cautious overtime with McLaren Paulsen registering the best chance when he was denied blocker side by Keenan Marks on an in-tight 2-1. The game would end at 6:31 on a defensive turnover. Dimitri Trahiotis would chip the puck ahead to Edison Weeks. An off balanced Weeks managed to do a 360 behind the back pass to Jamie Fuchs who banged it home for the comeback winner.
Dryden GM: 31
Thunder Bay: 27
1.Keenan Marks (30 saves)
2. Eric Clark (25 saves)
3.Jamie Fuchs (2 goals)