Bill Salonen Cup Preview

By Gary Moskalyk

Previous Matchups

Nov 10 SLB 3 at KRW 4 (SO)

Nov 11 SLB 4 at KRW 5

Jan 12  SLB 2 at KRW 0

Jan 13  SLB 2 at KRW 3 (SO)

Jan 26  KRW 5 at SLB 4 (OT)

Jan 27  KRW 1 at SLB 4 

Feb 10 KRW 3 at SLB 2

Head to head: SLB 2-2-3, .500 GF 21 GA 20, KRW 5-2-0 .714, GF 20 GA 21 

SLB 8-1-0 .889, GF 46 GA 21 DIFF +25 PP 32.7% PK 83.8% PIMs 126 PIM/G 14.0

KRW 8-0-0 1.000, GF 53 GA 13 DIFF + 40 PP 34.7% PK 83.3% PIMs 182 PIM/G 22.8

Games: Apr 17-18 at Kam River, Apr 20-21 at Sioux Lookout, Apr 23 at Kam River, April 25 at Sioux Lookout. Game times vary.

Kam River enters the series on a 23-game winning streak. Their last lost was on January 27, ironically as it turns out, 4-1 to the Bombers. The top offensive club in the league, Kam River, plays the top defensive club, Sioux Lookout. 

Both teams have smaller rinks, as noted by Bomber head coach Carson Johnstone in our recent phone call.

The Bombers lost three of the seven head-to-head regular season games in extra time. They outscored the Walleye 21-20, despite sporting a 2-2-3 record versus Kam River’s 5-2-0 line.

Sioux Lookout, in their second year of existence, have raised the bar this playoff year, going to the finals with a series sweep against Fort Frances and a five-game set with Thunder Bay. 

The Bombers have no shortage of firepower. A total of eight players are averaging a point per game or more, led by Owen Riffel’s and Jonah Smith’s 13 points. Riffel and Smith have six goals and seven assists each. Cobe Delaney has 12 points (5G 7A), rookie Owen Cotter has 11, (6G 5A), and Blake Burke has 10, (5G 5A) to round out the double-digit men. Connor Burke (3G 6A), Trever Sanderson (3G 6A) and rookie defenceman Kaden Veller (2G 7A) round out the nine-point players. Defenceman Nolan Palmer has five goals–all on the power play–and three helpers for eight points. 

Goaltender Jack Osmond has played every minute of every game in net, one of 14 Bombers who have played in all nine playoff games. Other than Rylan Leroux, out with an upper body injury, the squad is very healthy going into the finals. The week lay-off will provide a little healing time for all the players nursing the usual bumps and bruises of playoff hockey.

Osmond is doing Osmond-type work in the playoffs, sporting a 2.25 goals against average and a .939 save percentage. Matthew Spencer-Dahl waits in the wings.

Head coach Carson Johnstone’s notebook:

Kam River: “Good hockey team. We have to play some tight defense and not give them room to use the skills they have. If we’re able to do that, I think, we’re also a good hockey team. We get our fore-check going, we just hope to play more hockey in their zone than ours. Yeah, keep going, keep competing. It’s been great hockey so far.

Keys to winning: “Always, always, always, if you’re not committed to defence you’re not committed to winning. Keep the puck out of your net. You’ll get offensive opportunities if you play good enough defence. For us, we want to stick to that obviously. Just get to their goaltender. It’s small ice, just like our home rink. It’ll be interesting. It’ll be a hell of a series, I think.

Franchise needle: “I think it’s moved quite a bit. Last year we thought we had a lot of success and that we made strides as an expansion franchise. To fall short in the playoffs like we did (last year) taught us a lot. No disrespect to the team that beat us, but we felt we should have won. Definitely kicked us in the teeth a little bit. Introspectively, we had to look at the mistakes we made throughout the year, things that made us weaker or stronger or whatever. We really tried to approach things a little differently this year. . . It’s really always about your players, the buy-in. It feels great, the culture for the team to have another consistent year and have some success at the end. It validate the culture you’ve been building.”

Dressing room: “We feel good. If the players feel confident, I think the players believe in themselves. It was good that, as much as it wasn’t, that we squandered a lead in the last series (game 4 OT loss versus Thunder Bay). We were playing very well and having a lot of success. We eliminated a lead the night before (game two late, plus OT shorty). Your head swells, you lose focus. It was good. I think the guys feel confident . . . It’s playoff hockey at this point. It’s dropping the puck. Who’s willing to out-compete the other guy.”

Kam River’s sweep of Red Lake and their long winning streak is a testament to how good this team really is.

Sterling offence is the team’s m-o and they have plenty of it. Jett Mintenko leads all SIJHL playoff scorers with 16 points (4G 12A). Rookie Kaden Goodwin leads all playoff snipers with seven goals. He had six assists to go with it. Ryan Doucette has six goals and six helpers, and defenceman Brydon Bell has five goals and six assists for 11 points. Four players have nine points. Rookies Carter Nailen (6G) and Carter Poddubny (3G), defenceman Jacob Sargent (2G), and rookie Nickolas Fagnilli (1G) round out that category. Two players have seven points, and five more have six points. A total of 16 players have played in all eight games.

Ashton Sadauskas has been stellar in net. He’s elevated his play in the playoffs, posting a 1.43 goals against and .943 save percentage in the playoffs. Travis VanderZwaag played one game against Kenora and will be in reserve.

Head coach Jesse Messier’s notebook:

The injury situation has not changed from before the playoffs. The players who are injured are “long term.”

Sioux Lookout Bombers: “They play a really structured game. They’re really good defensively. They’re really good at getting four guys back above the puck, they don’t give up many odd man chances. You have to go through four or five of them almost every single time. And they’ve got an offence that can strike at any time. They’ve got some really high-end players on their team who can strike at any time. They’re power play is very fluid. a bunch of different looks with the same personnel that keeps you on your toes.”

Keys to success: “Special teams always play a big role. I think we’ve been defending really well. It’s an area where we’re needing to keep it up. We’re getting contributions from all four lines. Again, it’s a really balanced attack, something we’ve been doing all year. We’re going to have to stick with that. We’re going to have to be disciplined. It’s going to be a series where a team can really capitalize on mistakes here and there. We’re looking to do the same. It’s going to be a tight series, that’s for sure.”

Franchise needle: “It’s my first year, but Kevin (GM Kevin McCallum) and everyone have done a really good job of building a contender each and every year, creating that kind of atmosphere that players want to come to. Everyone knows it’s a new team, a new year to build off (prior success). This group from Kevin down have done a good job developing hockey players who want to come here to get better. We want guys who want to continue on their hockey careers . . . who want to be coached to be better. That’s the group we have here now. No matter what happens in the final it’s that culture that’s been built here in Kam River.”

Overall feel: “We’re feeling good. We’re feeling good just like we did at the beginning of last round. We’re feeling excited. It’s going to be another tough series for sure. Even the last series against Red Lake. It was only four games, some of the games might not have been tight scores, but some of them opened up later. Hard battle from the first puck drop to the final whistle. It was good to go through that last round. Guys are expecting a lot of the same against Sioux Lookout.”

Ashton Sadauskas: “He’s been amazing. He’s been amazing all season long (26-3-0). I think he was in net for 31 appearances, to only lose three games . . . he’s as advertised. He might have even reached another level in the playoffs. He’s really calm and poised in the net, positionally sound. It makes guys a lot more comfortable. He’s not a goalie scrambling to make saves. He’s a calming presence when we’re trying to hold the fort. He’s been top notch. He takes his craft a lot more seriously than a lot of guys I’ve seen. He put the extra time in, doing everything to keep his body in the best shape. I expect a lot more out of him in this final round as well.”