The Kenora Thistles are clearly a resilient bunch.
One day after being trimmed 8-0 by the Rosetown Redwings in an Allan Cup round-robin game, the Thistles were a prickly crew against the Fort St. John Flyers Thursday, getting three goals from Jeff Richards in an 8-2 quarter-final win at the Red Deer Arena.
“We had a little more room out there and we moved our feet today,” said Kenora head coach John Tresoor. “That’s the thing for us — if we don’t skate we’re in big trouble. We made some room for ourselves and the puck went in the net for us.”
Indeed it did. The Thistles opened the scoring a mere 44 seconds into the contest — with Richards beating Flyers goalie Troy Hunt with a slapshot from the left faceoff circle — en route to a 6-0 lead after one period.
Kenora was the harder-working team throughout the contest, although as Tresoor noted, the effort was evident in a tournament-opening 5-2 loss to the Bentley Generals and even during the blowout loss to Rosetown.
“Even the 8-0 game . . . I thought we deserved a better fate,” said the Thistles bench boss. “We just couldn’t get a bounce and I think we got them all in the first period of this game.
“We told the guys that we had some bad luck around the net the first couple of games. But the harder you work the luckier you get. The effort was there the first two games. We just needed a bounce and we scored on the first shift today and that’s what we needed. From there, the boys got untracked.”
Mike English buried a rebound 3:10 into the game and Tom Biondich gave Kenora a 3-0 lead at 12:08 when he jumped on a turnover at the Flyers blueline, broke in alone and threw a deke on Hunt. Richards notched his second of the period just 26 seconds later and former Calgary Hitmen forward and Edmonton Oilers prospect Sean McAslan and Jon Johnson connected in the final 62 seconds of the frame.
Jon Poirier upped the count to 7-0 just under six minutes into the second period — taking advantage of a giveaway inside enemy territory — before the Flyers finally got on the board, courtesy of a deflection by Todd Alexander. Richards capped a two-on-one break with his hat-trick marker in the final minute of the frame and from there it was just a matter of keeping things under check in the third period.
While the contest got a mite testy in the final frame, emotions didn’t boil over. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ Jeff Shipton closed out the scoring at 5:54 with the Thistles two men short.
Hunt, who was temporarily replaced by Austin Smith after Kenora’s fourth goal, faced most of the 38 shots directed at the Flyers’ net. Ryan Person went the distance for the Thistles, turning aside 26 shots in a stellar performance.
“We have solid goaltending. It all came together today at the right time,” said Tresoor.
The Thistles will take on the host Generals in a semifinal tonight at 8 p.m.
“We know they’re a good team and there’s going to be a big crowd here and everything that goes with it,” said Tresoor. “We liked our effort against them and we’re comfortable playing them.”
Thistles defenceman and Kenora native Mike Garrow echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“It helps (in terms of familiarity) that we’ve played them (Generals) but I think it doesn’t really matter who you play because it’s sudden death so you have to beat whoever your opponent is,” he said.
Garrow, the vice-principal at Sylvan Lake’s H.J. Cody high school who flies to Kenora throughout the season to play weekend games with the Thistles — consisting of players he grew up with and played with at the junior level — sees the team coming around at precisely the perfect time.
“We’re coming together as a team,” he said. “We haven’t had a league to gel as a team through the season so we’ve been kind of piecing games together and doing our best that way. But each game here we’ve stepped it up and we finally got some bounces today and found the net.”