The Grand Forks Border Bruins are back on the ice for the 2021-2022 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) season. With a new coach on the bench and the team’s main selection camp held a week ago, the team played the first two of six exhibition games over the weekend.
There were seven players from Grand Forks and the Boundary in the exhibition lineup.
The COVID-19 shutdown of the KIJHL last season led to many of last year’s players finding other areas to play. The result was just four returners in the lineup from last year’s roster, goaltender Harrison Tutt, left-winger Mason Buzzell, and defencemen Ben MacFarlane and Nick Morin.
On Saturday night, Sept. 18, the Bruins played their first exhibition game at the Sun Bowl Arena in Osoyoos against the Coyotes, the only time the team will face Osoyoos under this season’s schedule.
The Bears put on a lot of pressure in the early minutes of the game, prompting the Osoyoos broadcasters to wonder where this team came from – the Bruins faced the ‘Yotes twice in exhibition and once in the regular season last fall, losing all three matchups by at least three points.
The Coyotes opened the scoring late in the first while the Bruins were serving a tripping penalty — the power play goal by Payton McDonald-Corea put the Coyotes up by one at the first intermission. Goals were exchanged — the Bruins evened things up moments after their own power play expired when Jameson Flint passed the puck to Leo Senger in the high slot and Senger put the goal through traffic and behind Osoyoos goalie Ken Marquardt.
Osoyoos rallied quickly, retaking the lead 51 seconds later when Ryan Bester skated in to pick up an unprotected puck 10 feet in front of Tutt, who made the first save. But Bester was in position to get the rebound, putting the Coyotes up 2-1 heading into the third period.
The Bruins tied it again midway through the third after Flint stole the puck at the Osoyoos blue line, carried it into the far corner and passed back for a tip by Tyson Kistner who’d set up shop in front of the Osoyoos net. Osoyoos vet Noah Eisenhut scored three minutes later, and the Bruins ran out of time. The final score from Osoyoos was 3-2 for the Coyotes.
On Sunday afternoon, the Bruins stepped onto home ice, the first time the team was permitted to have fans at a game in 18 months. Around 140 people were in attendance to see the Bruins’ exhibition game versus the visiting Creston Valley Thundercats.
The Cats had two exhibition games behind them, starting last Wednesday with a solid pounce on the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in Fruitvale in a 7-1 victory, followed by a 6-3 win on Saturday night at home hosting the Kimberley Dynamiters. While it’s common to see teams playing “bubble” players who are still being evaluated during exhibition games, history tells that both the Nitehawks and Dynamiters are consistently top performers in the league, so this pair of victories foreshadowed Sunday’s game.
Like the night before, the Bruins put good pressure on Creston in the first minutes of the game, but the Cats stepped up their game significantly once they perceived the threat. Creston veteran Corbin Cockerill opened the scoring late in the first period, and the Thundercats added a second midway through the second from Blake Hiltermann. Shots were close in the first period, 15-14, but the Thundercats outshot the Bruins in the second and third periods. Creston goaltender Harmon Laser-Hume secured a shutout, while Grand Forks goaltender Justin Dueck performed well with 41 saves on 43 shots.
The final score in Grand Forks was 2-0 for the Thundercats.
The Bruins have four more exhibition games, Wednesday, Sept. 22 at Castlegar and on Friday, Sept. 24 at Beaver Valley. Those games can be seen online with a subscription to HockeyTV.com. The bears will be back at the Jack at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 25, when they face-off against the Nitehawks and again Tuesday, Sept. 28, when they host their last exhibition against the Castlegar Rebels.