Fighting Walleye complete sweep with OT win over Stars

Written by Leith Dunick

Dayton Clarke scored the overtime winner at 8:47 of the extra frame, ending the North Stars season.

THUNDER BAY – The Kam River Fighting Walleye are moving on.

Forward Dayton Clarke buried the overtime winner past Thunder Bay North Stars goaltender Jordan Smith 8:47 into the extra frame, earning the Fighting Walleye a 4-0 sweep in the best-of-seven Superior International Junior Hockey League semifinal.

Clarke, who drew an assist on Jeremy Dunmore’s equalizer late in the third, called the 2-1 win a relief, giving him and his teammates an 11-day rest before the Bill Salonen Cup final is expected to begin on April 22.

“Everybody dreams to score the OT goal and sweep them. We’re just tired, if anything. But the job’s not done yet. We’ll go up in the next series and try to do the same thing that we did here,” said Clarke, a Victoria, B.C. native who will attend the University of Oregon next season on a mixed hockey and baseball scholarship.

For now, the 20-year-old is leaning toward the hockey side of the deal.

Acquired midway through the current campaign from the Elliot Lake Red Wings, Clarke put up 10 goals in 14 regular seasons games, but had yet to score in the post-season.

The goal came off the perfect feed from Calvin Morrow, who fired the puck into the slot from behind North Stars goaltender Jordan Smith.

Clarke did the rest.

“It was at the end of the shift. I was tired and kind of lollygagging. But we put the puck in deep and (Calvin) just fed me out front. It just happened. Every goal is as big as the last, it was a group effort,” he said.

Fighting Walleye coach Matt Valley, who once played for the North Stars, said he had nothing but respect for the opposing team, after holding them to just four goals all series long.

“What a good game, back and forth. I think they came out with some spunk and we stuck with it, right to the last five minutes when we scored. Credit to our guys for sticking with it. They’re the most storied franchise in the league. To beat that coaching staff and that team and this franchise, in this barn, I had a tear in my eye walking off the ice,” Valley said.

It was the first playoff series win for Kam River, denied a chance to play in last year’s post-season when COVID-19 cancelled an already shortened schedule.

Neither team was able to score in the first, the Stars generating the most chances, but coming up empty in front of 1,627 fans at Fort William Gardens.

Matthew Halushak finally snapped the scoreless tie at 15:35 of the second, taking a cross-crease pass from Lou Vesperini and banging it off the post and into the net behind Fighting Walleye goaltender Austin Madge, who made 45 stops on the night.

Both sides had plenty of chances in the third. Smith stopped Clarke from point-blank range in the early stages of the stanza. Thunder Bay captain Hunter Foreshew had an opportunity with a backhand in close, only to have Madge turn it aside. Kam River’s Christian Veneruzzo and Zach Fortin had a two-on-one foiled and Thunder Bay’s Edison Weeks couldn’t punch home a wrap-around attempt midway through the third.

Jeremy Dunmore finally got the Fighting Walleye on the board, burying a rebound after Thunder Bay forward Dimitri Trahiotis’s made a weak clearing attempt that  kept the play alive.

Foreshew, playing his final game with the North Stars, said it was a heartbreaking way to have the season come to an end.

“We had so many opportunities to end it in overtime. We had chance after chance. Sometimes they just don’t go in,” he said.

Smith made 40 saves in the Thunder Bay net.

Kam River will next take on the winner of the Dryden/Red Lake semifinal, currently tied at a game apiece, the winner of that series advancing to the Centennial Cup.

Notes: Kam River’s Trystan Goodman was given a gross misconduct for something he allegedly said to Thunder Bay forward Mason Wesley.