Thunder Bay, ON
April 6, 2022
Story by: Gary Moskalyk, Special to the SIJHL
Red Lake Miners head coach Geoff Walker views his 12-day break as a plus for his squad.
“We worked our players pretty hard,” said Walker. “I think in the long run having that extra time to get healthy and nail down some of our key points with of system and our structure and the way we want to play was a positive. Guys are chomping at the bit, ready to get going.”
The third-year coach has yet to see playoff action in the SIJHL. He’ll get a snoot full against Dryden.
“They’re a big, physical team. I think they have a lot of depth offensively. (Dryden forward Maxime) Collette was MVP for a reason. That guy will hurt ya. If you give him just a little bit of space he knows how to put the puck in the net. They’ve got two really good goalies. We’re going to be in tough. If we play our game I like our chances. It’s going to be a tough match-up for us for sure.”
Rookie Kiev Kineshanko is expected to carry the freight in net for Red Lake. In 20 regular season games he posted a 16-3-1 record, 2.93 GAA, and .922 SV%.
The Miners shone offensively, scoring 210 goals in 37 games to pace the league in goals-per-game.
“I think the strength of our team is our offense and our forwards and our depth up front. We have four 20-year-olds with Baranesky, Hunter, Howe and Belanger who we feel are up there with anybody in the league. We’ve got a lot of depth up front. We’ve spread it around with scoring. We’re looking for those big guns to be going early and often in the playoffs.”
Jordan Baranesky scored 36 goals in 37 games, adding 30 assists, to pace the team in points. Ryan Hunter had 25 goals and a team-leading 36 helpers in just 27 games. Ryan Howe logged 50 points. New acquisition Mathieu Belanger had five goals in eight games. Brady Herroun had a 51-point campaign, and Nic Bolin and Noah Kramps both averaged over a point a game. Defenseman Kenyon Nyman added 36 points.
“Our depth is there, too. You have guys like Carter Albrecht and Elliot Parker on the fourth line. They play really physical and set the tone for us as well. Up and down the line-up one-through-four we feel like that’s an advantage for our team. On defense we have we think we have two of the best in the league in Kenyon Nyman and Brandon Rossetti. We have other guys to insulate those guys as well.”
Red Lake posted a 6-1-1 regular season mark against Dryden, outscoring them 36-25. Walker isn’t putting too much stock in those numbers, other than the comfort of knowing if his team plays up to spec their chances look good.
“Playoffs is a brand new season, brand new energy. We’re not paying too much attention to (regular season). We know it’s going to be a long, hard-fought series for sure,” he said.
High scoring forward Baranesky welcomes a return to playoffs.
“It’s nice to get back into the playoffs,” he said. “This is the third year. There’s been no playoffs in two years. Nice to get back to some normalcy. Get the playoffs underway. I think it’s long overdue.
“We know they’re a big team,” Baranesky continued. “We know if we want to beat them we have to play hard, we have to play fast, use our speed. One thing I think for us is we’ll have to stay disciplined, stay out of the penalty box. They have a lot of good players. We can’t make many mistakes or they will capitalize on them. Can’t let our guard down.”
Kurt Walsten’s Dryden squad enters the playoffs as an underdog, pretty much just the way he likes it.
“If we stay out of the penalty box we’re going to cause Red Lake a lot of problems because we can roll four lines,” said Walsten. “Red Lake is built with two lines that can score. The other two do a good job, they work hard. Guys on our fourth line score 15, 16 goals. What gets us in trouble as a team is when we’re not disciplined, or unfocussed.”
The third-place Ice Dogs were no slouches, playing at a .622 clip, outscoring their opponents 213-137 in 45 games.
“We’ve got to put the work in. Red Lake is a very good team. They capitalize on the other team’s mistakes all the time and we’re our own worst enemy. Sometime we cheat too much for offence ,” said Walsten.
Collette led the league in scoring with 81 points. Tristan Takats added 54 points in 39 games. Brady Frattinger and Cameron Ware had 44-point seasons, rookie Tyler Earl played 45 games and had 30 points. Four players had 20-plus points, including Jordan Gagnon, with 20 points in 19 games. Four more players registered 15-plus points in less-than-full campaigns.
Cole Johnston is expected to play the majority of time in net. He joined the Ice Dogs on February 11, going 4-4-2 in his 10 games with an .895/3.75 slash line. In the playoffs he hit his stride, going 3-0 with two shut outs, one goal allowed and a .982 save percentage against Fort Frances. Admittedly those numbers will change against the high-powered Miners.
“Cole’s 20-years-old and he wants to win a championship. . . If he’s peaking right now, it’s the perfect time right now,” said Walsten of Johnston.
Dryden bolstered its roster in time for the playoff push.
“We brought in Jordan Gagnon. Nakoda Thunderchief was Fort Frances’ captain. (We added) Cole, we’ve brought in (Pineshish) Whiteduck who’s a two-way guy who works hard every night. Tristan Takats . . . he missed a couple months. We’re getting everybody back, everybody is healthy. Jackson Jacques, he’s been our top scoring defenseman. All these guys are peaking right now. Branden Hill is another. We have six defense who can play, we have 12 forwards we can throw on the ice. We don’t rely on just Max Collette for scoring.”
The Ice Dogs feel they’ve been in playoff mode for a while now.
“We’ve had the toughest schedule here the last month. For the most part we’re pretty healthy,” said Walsten. “Our better players play the same way every night, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. I’m sure Red Lake is confident playing against us, just like I’m confident we can beat Red Lake.”
Dryden Underdogs? Sure, bring it on, says Walsten.
“Red Lake has all the pressure here. They’re a top-ranked top 10 team in all of Canada (8th). . . Most people don’t expect us to win. They don’t think we’re going to win. That’s where we’re going to surprise a lot of teams if we stay out of the penalty box.”
Cameron Ware leads the playoff scoring race with eight points in three games. Not his usual modus operandi as a hockey player, but he’ll take it.
“Obviously it’s going to be a battle,” said the Dryden captain, who stands in at 6-6, weighs 220, and cracked 100 penalty minutes. “We’ve both had our ups and downs this season. I don’t think we’re out-gunned at all. I think we have a good team and we’re well rounded. We’re not going down without a fight I can tell you that.”
Ware had a breakout season scoring 17 times with 27 assists in 36 games.
“With my game, points aren’t always the biggest thing,” said Ware. “Never been a big points guy. Always feels good to get a couple on the board.”
Ware offered his take on the best-of-seven set to open in Red Lake on Thursday.
“A lot of confidence coming through here,” said Ware. “I think a lot of the guys are feeling that way, too. Nobody’s scared of Red Lake or anybody in this league, but saying that, we can’t take them lightly. Everybody has to buy in, sticking to the game plan. If we do that I don’t see how anybody can beat us in the league. That’s been our group plan all along–consistency. We’ve beaten the best team, we’ve lost to the worst team. Got to stay consistent going through these final stretches.
“Don’t count us out,” he added. “All year Red Lake and Kam River have been the highly touted teams in the league. I think we’ve been flying under the radar here, coming into the playoffs. Don’t count out the Ice Dogs.”