THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The Superior International Junior Hockey League Bill Salonen Cup Final between the Thunder Bay North Stars and the Red Lake Miners begins Saturday night at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.
Here’s a look at how the two sides match-up as they commence their quest to become SIJHL champions.
HOW THEY ARRIVED: Both teams had first round byes to begin the playoffs by finishing first and second in the SIJHL standings.
Thunder Bay ended up in top spot after posting a league-best record of 49-5-1-1 while Red Lake was slotted second overall by going 38-15-3-0.
In league semifinal play, the North Stars dethroned the two-time defending SIJHL champion Dryden GM Ice Dogs in five thrilling games, including one that needed overtime to decide a winner and two more then went to double OT, with Thunder Bay taking all three of those contests.
As for the Miners, after dropping the opener in extra time vs. Thief River Falls, they reeled off four consecutive wins to take that best-of-seven affair in five outings.
LAST TIME: On the last occasion the two teams met in the postseason, it was back in 2017, when the Miners took a best-of-seven semifinal match-up four games to one, that featured winning the last two contests in overtime.
Prior to that they faced off in quarter-final action in 2015 with Thunder Bay coming away victorious in a three-game sweep.
The North Stars will be competing in their ninth Bill Salonen Cup Final while the Miners are in their second.
Thunder Bay boasts a SIJHL-record five titles to their credit, but are looking to secure their first crown since 2010.
As for Red Lake, they are in search of their initial Bill Salonen Cup crown.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Thunder Bay and Red Lake met 10 times during the course of the regular season, with the North Stars taking the season set 7-3.
The Miners did however win the final two get togethers the clubs had.
In all, Thunder Bay outscored Red Lake by a 44-25 count.
THE TEAMS: THUNDER BAY NORTH STARS (49-5-1-1) 1st overall
SCORING: The league-leading North Stars boasted a plethora of offensive talent seeing four of their players finish in the Top 5 in SIJHL scoring as well as have 10 skaters register 40 or more points on the campaign.
Leading the squad were forward Keighan Gerrie and defenceman Kyle Auger as the duo amassed 102 points each in pacing the league.
Gerrie, a NCAA Division I commitment to Bowling Green (WCHA) in 2020, scored 41 times and dished out 61 assists. He is also tabbed on the most-recent NHL Central Scouting rankings list heading into this June’s NHL Draft in Vancouver.
As for Auger, he topped all SIJHL blueliners in offensive numbers, including a league-high 69 assists.
Ryan Mignault and Joel Willan were fourth and fifth respectively in SIJHL scoring with 90 and 87 points with Mignault registering a league-high nine game-winning markers.
In the playoffs to date, Gerrie leads the North Stars with eight points, on four goals and as many assists.
He is followed by Willan and Brendan Gillis, who have collected a half dozen points apiece.
On the blueline, the trio of Auger, Logan Mihalcin and Josh Bryant have three points each.
GOALTENDERS: The Thunder Bay netminding tandem of Brock Aiken and Dougie Newhouse finished one-two in nearly every league goaltending category.
Aiken was first in goals-against average (2.12), save percentage (.931) and shutouts (8) followed by Newhouse in average (2.16), save mark (.923) and shutouts (5).
Newhouse was first overall in victories with 26 while Aiken had 23.
So far, in the playoffs, Aiken sports a 4-1 record and tops all SIJHL netminders in both goals-against average and save percentage at 1.62 and .955 respectively.
In overtime alone, Aiken has been even better, having not allowed a goal in nearly 80 minutes of extra work on 54 shots.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Thunder Bay topped the table in power play proficiency at 24.8% scoring 52 times in 210 opportunities. The North Stars were also No. 1 on the penalty kill at 89.4%.
In their series triumph over Dryden, the club went 20% with the man advantage, scoring five times in 25 opportunities.
While down a skater, Thunder Bay was just 72.7% on the P.K., allowing six power play markers in the 22 times they were shorthanded.
NORTH STARS NOTES: The North Stars featured the top three players in the SIJHL in terms of game-winning goals during the season. … Along with Mignault’s nine, Auger had eight and Gerrie seven. … Also, of note, of Auger’s 48 career marker in the league, 14 have been game-winners. … Thunder Bay led the league in goals scored with 363. … The North Stars allowed the fewest tallies against at 122. … Mignault was second in the SIJHL in goals with 49 and Gerrie was third with 41. … Auger led the league in power play points with 27 while Gerrie tied for third with 19. … Thunder Bay was 34-0-0-1 when scoring first in a game. … When leading after one period, the North Stars were a perfect 29-0 when leading after one and 40-0 while in front heading to the second intermission. … Thunder Bay had winning streaks of nine of more games four times this season. … The North Stars enter the final leading in playoff attendance, averaging over 1,000 fans, in each of their first three home contests. … Gerrie scored on a penalty shot in a win vs. Dryden on March 29. … Thunder Bay is 3-0 at home so far this postseason and 1-1 on the road. … The North Stars are a perfect 3-0 in OT in the playoffs. … They also sit 3-0 when scoring first. … Thunder is 2-0 when leading after one period and the same when up following 40 minutes. … Keighan Gerrie and Joel Willan sport modest two-game goal streaks heading into the final. … Brendan Gillis has assists in five consecutive contests. … Gerrie and Gillis have points in five in succession. … Gerrie has tallied in all three home games the North Stars have played, including the one on the penalty shot.
BEHIND THE BENCH: In his second year as head coach for Thunder Bay is Rob DeGagne. He boasts an 87-18-5-2 record behind the North Stars bench in that span.
THE TEAMS: RED LAKE MINERS (38-15-3-0) 2nd overall
SCORING: Led by forward Bryce Young, who notched the second-most goals in a single season in SIJHL history, with 60, the Miners supplied 278 tallies this season.
Young went on to register 101 points and topped all SIJHL players in both power play and shorthanded markers with 15 and seven respectively.
He also tied with the Norskies Boe Bjorge for sixth in game-winners with five.
Red Lake captain Michael Di Lullo also had a career year setting personal bests in goals, assists and points with 33, 42 and 75.
His 75 points put him eighth in SIJHL scoring.
Meanwhile, Shaye Sommerfeld, Kyle Uzelman and Spencer Milne were all point-per-game producers for the Miners.
Sommerfeld collected 53 points in 45 games while Uzelman had 52 in 51 contests and Milne the same total, but in just 39 contests. Uzelman was also notched 20 tallies and the other two had 18 each.
The top point getter among Miners’ defencemen was Keilan Toews who supplied three goals and 37 assists in 43 games while Dante Tisi had 36 points and Cole Bohnet had 28.
In their series triumph over Thief River Falls, Keegan Tiringer led the squad with nine points, including a team-best five markers.
Kyle Uzelman and Morgan Venne were next with seven points apiece followed by SIJHL MVP Bryce Young and Stratton Pickett with six each.
Dante Tisi topped the blueline corps offensively with four points while Keilan Toews had three.
GOALTENDERS: Between the pipes, Red Lake’s Zach Willms saw action in a SIJHL-high 2,086 minutes and was second in wins with 25.
His 2.88 goals-against average and .921 save percentage placed him third in the league in both categories while finishing tied for fourth in shutouts with two.
Vince Benedetto, produced 11 victories and posted one shutout.
Willms got the nod against the Norskies starting in all five meeting there going 4-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage, which ranks him second in the league in both categories.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Red Lake sported a 19.9% success rate on the power play this season, notching 51-man advantage markers in 256 opportunities, to place them second in the league.
They led the SIJHL in shorthanded goals with 17, including seven by Bryce Young.
During their triumph over Thief River Falls, the Miners were a solid 26.3% on the power play as the scored five goals in 19 opportunities.
Shorthanded vs. the Norskies they were successful at an 81.8% clip.
MINERS’ NUGGETS: The Miners were second overall in goals scored with 278. … Red Lake sat third in goals allowed at 193. … The Miners produced 19 road wins during the regular season. … Michael Di Lullo led Red Lake in game-winning goals with six. … When scoring first in a game, the Miners went 27-4-2-0. … When leading after one period, Red Lake was 28-2-1-0 and 31-1-2-0 when up after 40 minutes. … Spencer Milne of the Miners had a league-high 11-game assist streak during the season. … Bryce Young and Stratton Pickett are tied for second in rookie scoring in the playoffs with six points each. … Red Lake is 2-1 in the playoffs at home and 2-0 as the visitor. … The Miners are 0-1 in games that go to overtime. … They are 1-1 when scoring first. … The club is 2-1 when leading after one and 4-1 when up after two. … Tiringer has scored in four straight playoff contests. … He also has points in five straight. … Kyle Uzelman and Sean Gula have three-game assist streaks on the go.
BEHIND THE BENCH: Leading the Miners behind the bench is Derek Sweet-Coulter.
His efforts earned him SIJHL Coach of the Year laurels this season.
Sweet-Coulter also served on the coaching staff for Canada West the past two years at the World Junior A Challenge where he helped his team mine gold in 2017 and a bronze in 2018.
WHAT’S NEXT: The SIJHL winner will then advance to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A Championship, April 30 – May, in Cochrane, Ont.
There they will go up against the host Cochrane Crunch (NOJHL) as well as the title holders from the Ontario Junior Hockey League (Wellington Dukes or Oakville Blades) and the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (Hearst Lumberjacks or Soo Thunderbirds) with a berth to the Canadian National Jr. A Championship, May 11-19, in Brooks, Alta., on the line.
ONLINE VIEWING: All games in Bill Salonen Cup Final will be streamed live online via HockeyTV.com.
ABOUT THE CUP: The SIJHL championship trophy is named after Mr. Bill Salonen.
This long-time hockey man is a life member of Hockey Northwestern Ontario and is also an honoured member of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
He hails from Dryden and also served as the town’s mayor previously.
Salonen is a widely respected individual who has volunteered countless years in sport and otherwise in the region for the benefit of those in northwestern Ontario.
BILL SALONEN CUP BREAKDOWN: Here’s a breakdown of the previous 17 Bill Salonen Cup finals,
|YEAR: SIJHL CHAMPION||FINALIST|
|2002: Dryden Ice Dogs||Fort Frances Borderland Thunder|
|2003: Fort Frances Borderland Thunder||Thunder Bay Bulldogs|
|2004: Fort William North Stars||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2005: Fort William North Stars||Fort Frances Borderland Thunder|
|2006: Fort William North Stars||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2007: Schreiber Diesels||Fort William North Stars|
|2008: Dryden Ice Dogs||Fort William North Stars|
|2009: Fort William North Stars||Thunder Bay Bearcats|
|2010: Fort William North Stars||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2011: Wisconsin Wilderness||Dryden Ice Dogs|
|2012: Wisconsin Wilderness||Fort Frances Lakers|
|2013: Wisconsin Wilderness||Fort Frances Lakers|
|2014: Fort Frances Lakers||Minnesota Iron Rangers|
|2015: Fort Frances Lakers||Dryden GM Ice Dogs|
|2016: Fort Frances Lakers||Dryden GM Ice Dogs|
|2017: Dryden GM Ice Dogs||English River Miners|
|2018: Dryden GM Ice Dogs||Thunder Bay North Stars|
Bill Salonen Cup Final
Thunder Bay North Stars vs. Red Lake Miners
Game 1: Saturday, April 13 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. (Fort William Gardens)
Game 2: Sunday, April 14 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. (Fort William Gardens)
Game 3: Wednesday, April 17 @ Red Lake 7:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Game 4: Thursday, April 18 @ Red Lake 7:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Game 5*: Saturday, April 20 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. (Fort William Gardens)
Game 6*: Monday, April 22 @ Red Lake 6:30 p.m. (Cochenour Arena)
Game 7*: Wednesday, April 24 @ Thunder Bay 7:30 p.m. (To be determined)