CJHL Playoff Spotlight: The SIJHL

CALGARY, Alta. – Semifinal action in the Superior International Junior Hockey League begins Friday evening when one of their two final four match-ups getting underway.

Those four squads will square off in a pair of best-of-seven affairs to see who will advance to the SIJHL finals and compete for the Bill Salonen Cup championship.

Here’s a look at the latest CJHL Playoff Spotlight, which features the SIJHL.

SEASON: The defending league champion Dryden GM Ice Dogs made a strong push towards the end of the campaign by going 11-2 in their final 13 outings to claim their second consecutive regular season crown.

Dryden was two points ahead of the Thief River Falls Norskies, who had a tremendous second year in the SIJHL posting a league-best 41 victories.

The hottest team in the league in the second half of the season was the Thunder Bay North Stars who went 22-3-1-1 in their last 27 outings.

TOP SCORERS: SIJHL Most Valuable Player, in Dryden’s Jacen Bracko, topped the scoring list in 2017-18 with an 81-point campaign that featured a league-best 48 goals.

He finished comfortably ahead Parker Simonson of the Thief River Falls Norskies who registered 68 points on 37 tallies and 31 helpers.

Eric Stout of the GM Ice Dogs was right behind him with a 67-point campaign.

Dryden rookie forward Evans Walls led the league in game-winning goals with eight while Simonson supplied seven.

TOP D: Joe Newhouse of the Thunder Bay North Stars topped all SIJHL defencemen in points with 47.

League Top D award winner Cory Dennis was next with 46, including 15 tallies, which tied him for the most among rearguards.

TOP GOALKEEPERS: Brandon Bodnar of the North Stars led all SIJHL goalkeepers in both wins and shutouts with 23 and eight respectively.

Jacob Gnidziejko of Dryden had the best goals-against average in the league at 2.38.

Meanwhile Bailey Schmitz of Thief River Falls boasted the best save percentage at .927. He was also second in shutouts with a half dozen to his credit.

PLAYOFFS: Here’s a look at the SIJHL’s two semifinal match-ups:

No. 1 Dryden vs. No. 5 Fort Frances: Dryden led the SIJHL in goals scored at 272 and allowed the second fewest against at 133. … MVP Jacen Bracko’s 48 goals led all league skaters while Eric Stout’s 30 were the third most. … Evan Walls tied for the SIJHL rookie lead in tallies with 24. … He was third in points among first-year players with 50. … When scoring first in a game Dryden was an impressive 31-1-3-1 on the year. … The GM Ice Dogs led the league in power play success at 23.7% scoring 55 times in 232 chances. … They were second in the league on the penalty kill at 83.5%. … The club’s 14 shorthanded goals led the SIJHL. … When leading after one period, Dryden was tough to beat going 25-0-2-1. … They were equally as impressive when being in front after 40 minutes as their 30-1-3-1 record would indicate. … The GM Ice Dogs enter riding an eight-game SIJHL playoff winning streak…. Dryden earned a first round bye while Fort Frances knocked off the English River Miners in four games to advance.

No. 2 Thief River Falls vs. No. 3 Thunder Bay: The Norskies met the North Stars 10 times during the season and came away with victories in seven of them. … The trio of Thunder Bay triumphs all came within their last four meetings. … Thief River Falls produced three skaters in the Top 10 in league scoring. Parker Simonson was second in goals and points with 37 and 68. Michael Johnson was fifth in offensive numbers with 64 points while Top Defensive Forward recipient Mitchell Soderberg tied for ninth with 54 points. … Thunder Bay meanwhile produced five players that finished the regular season in the Top 10-point producers. They were Alex Maticic (65) in fourth, Avery Siau (63) sixth, Bradley Thrower (60) seventh, Brendan Gillis (56) eighth and Ryan Mignault (54) who tied for ninth. … Kyle Auger scored 15 times in just 27 games for the North Stars to tie for the league lead in goals among defencemen. His six game-winning markers led all league blueliners. … The North Stars were second on the power play at 23.6% while the Norskies were fourth at 18.5%. … The PK saw Thief River Falls lead the league at 88% with T-Bay third at 82.8%. … When leading after the first frame the Norskies were 22-1-1-0 and the Stars a perfect 24-0. After two periods of play, Thief River Falls was 27-2-0-1 and Thunder Bay 30-1-1-0. … Thief River Falls had a first round bye while Thunder Bay swept the Minnesota Iron Rangers in quarter-final play.

DID YOU KNOW: The Dryden GM Ice Dogs will host the 2018 Dudley-Hewitt Cup, May 1-5. … SIJHL alumnus Carter Hutton (Thunder Bay North Stars) of the St. Louis Blues leads all NHL netminders in both goals-against average and save percentage at 2.02 and .934 respectively. … Another SIJHL alum in defenceman Robert Bortuzzo (Thunder Bay North Stars) also plays for St. Louis. … Hutton and Bortuzzo were teammates on the 2005-06 North Stars’ side that won both a SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup, a Dudley-Hewitt Cup and had a semifinal berth at the RBC Cup before falling in overtime to the eventual champion Burnaby Express (BCHL). That same season Hutton set a SIJHL record for most shutouts in a single campaign with 10.

CJHL RANKINGS: The final CJHL Top 20 Rankings for 2017-18 saw a pair of SIJHL sides earn listings.

The Thief River Falls Norskies were tabbed 11th while the regular season-winning Dryden GM Ice Dogs ended up slotted 14th in the 132-team CJHL.

Commissioner: Bryan Graham
Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations: Dave Siciliano
Defending champion: Dryden GM Ice Dogs
Website: sijhlhockey.com
Twitter: @SIJHL
Facebook: /SIJHL