April 23, 2022
Thunder Bay, ON
In the true inaugural season of the SIJHL expansion Kam River Fighting Walleye, there are bound to be no shortage of ‘firsts’.
One such has come at the hands of the Red Lake Miners, at the most inopportune time – the first time the Walleye have experienced back-to-back defeats on home ice in their young history.
The opening set to the 2022 SIJHL finals did not unfold as planned, and now the Walleye must find a way to solve the puzzle that is the Red Lake squad on the road on Monday night or will face elimination in Tuesday’s game 4..
Sporting a near flawless 21-1-1 record in the regular season, and a 2-0 record in their opening round of the playoffs, the Walleye were counting on continued success in their own barn to put them in the drivers seat in the series. Instead, they’re facing an uphill back check to try and climb back into the series after having been swept at home.
Miners’ forward and captain Ryan Howe did most of the heavy lifting – and damage – on Friday night netting an assist to go along with a hat-trick including the eventual game winner in the early minutes of the second period.
Red Lake established an early 2-0 lead in the first with Howe’s first of the night (and fourth of the playoffs) finishing off a nifty individual effort dragging the puck from behind the net into the slot turning to his forehand to beat Kam River net minder Austin Madge high on the glove side. Jordan Baranesky and R.J. Dickie assisted.
It was then Dickie’s turn to force the face off at centre, when he was the recipient of a rebound from what appeared to be a tricky – but harmless – dump-in on the Kam River goal. Madge was not able to handle a bouncing puck cleanly and Dickie easily pounded the ensuing rebound home. Kenyon Nyman, who dumped the puck on net from just inside the red line was credited with an assist.
The Walleye cut that lead in half when a Kersey Reich point shot found it’s way through a plethora of legs in front and past Miners’ goalie Kiev Kineshanko with under two minutes to play in the opening stanza. Logan Gallaher and Mackenzie Sedgwick assisted on the play.
Trailing 1-0 in the series, and 2-1 after the first in game 2, the home side needed their best effort of the season in the middle frame.
The Walleye however had no answer for the onslaught the Miners brought, who scored three times in the period, extended their lead to 5-1 and all but ensured there would be less nails bitten as the minutes ticked off the clock compared to Thursday’s 3-2 victory.
At 5:59 it was Howe again who restored the two goal lead. Corralling a loose puck deep in Miners’ territory, Baranesky chipped a little pass to Howe who worked the puck all the way into the Fighting Walleye zone and into the slot area where he beat Madge for his second of the night.
Less than three minutes later, the Miners caught the fish with a bad pinch in the offensive zone, and Red Lake’s Mathieu Belanger tipped a puck past a defender to send Ryan Parker and Brady Harroun on a near full-ice two-on-1. Parker slid a nice pass across the hash marks, and there was little Madge could do on the play as Harroun converted. Time of the goal was 8:51.
A Walleye time-out did little to change the tide. Minutes after Harroun made it 4-1, Howe picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, took advantage of another poor decision from a Walleye defender and -along with defenceman Treston Moisey – was in all alone on Madge again. This time, Howe chose to slide a short pass through the crease to Moisey who converted.
The marker extended the lead to 5-1, chased Madge from the Fighting Walleye goal in favour of backup Eric Vanska, and all but assured the Miners a road sweep to open the Bill Salonen Cup championship final.
At 4:38 of the third, Walleye’s Jeremy Dunmore was Johnny-on-the-spot to corral a Dayton Clarke shot that had ping-ponged off a few shin pads and bang it home.
But any hopes of a gargantuan comeback were short-lived as Howe completed his hat-trick – shorthanded – after picking off a d-zone pass and walking in all alone on Vanska.
Final shots in the game were 42-26 in favour of the Miners.
Red Lake was 0/3 on the power play, Kam River went 0/4.
Three stars were Miners’ Ryan Howe (1st) and R.J. Dickie (2nd) and Fighting Walleye’s Kersey Reich (3rd).
The best-of-seven series will now shift to Red Lake’s Cochenour Arena for games three and four, for Monday and Tuesday nights respectively, 7:30pm central puck drop.
The winner of the series will be the 2022 SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup champions, and earn a birth into the Tim Horton’s Centennial Cup Junior A National Championship, set to get underway May 19th in Estevan, Saskatchewan.