THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The second Superior International Junior Hockey League quarter-final series begins this evening as the Thief River Falls Norskies host the Minnesota Iron Rangers in Game 1 of their best-of-five affair at 7 p.m. at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
This will be the first-ever playoff meeting between the Norskies and Iron Rangers.
The last time two U.S.-based SIJHL clubs met in the postseason was back in 2014 when Minnesota swept the then Wisconsin Wilderness in four straight games en route to a berth in the Bill Salonen Cup finals, in which they fell in seven hard fought games to the Fort Frances Lakers.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Norskies and Iron Rangers met 10 times during the course of the 2018-19 campaign.
After Minnesota was awarded a win in their initial meeting of the season, Thief River Falls reeled off nine consecutive victories to take the yearly set 9-1.
The Norskies also dominated on the scoreboard overall by notching 83 tallies compared to just 19 by the Iron Rangers.
SCORING: Pacing Thief River Falls offensively this season was second-year forward Boe Bjorge.
Bjorge amassed a team-leading 81 points on 29 goals and 52 assists, which also put him sixth in SIJHL scoring.
A model of consistency, he was only held off the score sheet 12 times during the season.
He was followed by Blake Nelson and Brett Piper who notched 73 and 72 points respectively.
Leading the Norskies backend was Connor Bowey, who had 62 points on 16 markers and 46 helpers.
Finishing with a strong second half of the season for the Iron Rangers was forward Joshua Baker.
Baker produced at least one point in 18 of Minnesota’s final 24 contests.
He also led the squad in scoring with 32 points while featuring a team-high 18 goals.
Veteran forward Garrett Wojcicki also contributed offensively to the Iron Rangers’ cause by notching 13 markers and assisting on 14 others.
He also boasted an 18-point improvement over last season.
Next was Joe Lech, who in 48 outings, tallied five times and helped set-up 17 others for the Hoyt Lakes side.
Their top point-getter among defencemen was Cam Birkeland. He scored four times and doled out 15 helpers along the way.
GOALTENDERS: Bailey Schmitz produced 21 wins for the Norskies in 2018-19 while his netminding partner, Fletcher Bolda, produced 13 victories with the duo combining for three shutouts.
Schmitz finished third in the league in minutes played at 1,957.
The Iron Rangers duo of Nick Corneliusen and Synjen Amende saw plenty of rubber fired their way in SIJHL action this season.
Corneliusen led all SIJHL goaltenders in saves in 2018-19 with 1,625. He also finished fourth overall in minutes played at 1,847.
Amende meanwhile was fourth in saves at 1,101.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Thief River Falls finished fourth in the league on the power play at 18.1% while Minnesota was sixth at 7.9%.
On the penalty kill the Norskies ended up fifth at 81.7% while the Iron Rangers were behind them at 69%.
When scoring first in games this season, TRF was 24-8-2-0 while the Rangers went 2-7-0-0.
The Norskies were solid on the road this season going 19-8-1-0 overall.
Thief River Falls were awarded three penalty shots during the season, but were unsuccessful on each occasion.
All SIJHL playoff games will be streamed live online via HockeyTV.com.
No. 3 Thief River Falls Norskies vs. No. 6 Minnesota Iron Rangers
Game 1: Wednesday, March 20 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 2: Thursday, March 21 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. (Ralph Engelstad Arena)
Game 3: Saturday, March 23 @ Minnesota 7 p.m. (Hoyt Lakes Arena)
Game 4*: Sunday, March 24 @ Minnesota 7 p.m. (Hoyt Lakes Arena)
Game 5*: Tuesday, March 26 @ Thief River Falls 7 p.m. (Ralph Engelstad Arena)