NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
NOJHL NETWORK MEDIA UPDATE
Release Date: Thursday, March 16, 2017
NOJHL 2nd round playoff preview: Soo Thunderbirds vs. Soo Eagles
SUDBURY, Ont. – Cross-border rivals will once again renew acquaintances in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal action as the surging Soo Thunderbirds will take on the Soo Eagles in a best-of-seven affair starting Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
There was no hotter team in the NOJHL entering the postseason than the Thunderbirds.
The two-time defending league champions reeled off a dozen consecutive victories to conclude the regular season and they were also unbeaten in 16 straight with 15 wins and a double overtime draw to their credit.
Capturing yet another NOJHL West Division crown, the T-Birds ended up with 88 points and a solid 43-11-1-1 record after 56 contests.
As for the Eagles, they earned their way into the series after besting the Elliot Lake Wildcats in a well-played best-of-three set that went the distance with Roman Gaudet proving to be the overtime hero by notching the game-winner in the first extra session of Game 3.
Finishing fourth in the NOJHL West, the Eagles picked up 57 points along the way while registering a 27-26-2-1 overall record.
Tying for fourth in the league in goals scored with 232, it’s the T-Birds defensive strengths that have been a staple to their overall success in the NOJHL the past number of years.
They gave up just 134 against all season, which was the second-lowest total in the league behind only the Powassan Voodoos.
Offensively the Eagles connected 222 times on the year and gave up 204.
Meeting 10 times during the campaign, the season set between the two sides was fairly close with the Thunderbirds winning six while the Eagles earned four triumphs.
No team won more than two games in succession against each other.
Six different skaters had the deciding marker for the Ontario Soo while of the four Eagles’ victories; Chris Murphy supplied two game-winners and assisted on another.
Pacing the Thunderbirds offensively vs. the Eagles was their captain and league second team CCM all-star Matthew Caruso.
The NOJHL’s best overall team player award recipient picked up 14 points along the way on seven goals and as many assists.
Zach Senecal was right behind him with 13 points, including a team-high nine tallies.
Then there was Mark Tassone, who chipped in with a half dozen markers and three helpers.
William Casey’s 10 points topped the Eagles in numbers against their opponents from the other Soo as he scored three times and helped set-up seven more.
Murphy was next with nine points that featured four goals and five assists.
Jacob Palmerio, Rhett Rampinelli and Chris Lutz sat third on the squad with seven points apiece.
Brandon Gordon went 3-3 in meetings against the Eagles while Dougie Newhouse was 3-1.
Kade Phipps had a 2-3 record against the Thunderbirds; Justyn Gillis went 2-0 and Jack Deines 1-2.
These long-time foes also met last year in divisional semifinal play with the T-Birds sweeping the series in four en route to capturing their second straight Copeland Cup – McNamara NOJHL championship.
The winner of the upcoming series will meet either the Blind River Beavers or Rayside-Balfour Canadians in the West Division final.
West Division semifinal (Series E)
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 4 Soo Eagles
Game 1: Thursday, March 16 @ Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 2: Saturday, March 18 @ Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 3: Wednesday, March 22 @ Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 4: Friday, March 24 @ Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 5*: Saturday, March 25 @ Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 6*: Monday, March 27 @ Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 7*: Wednesday, March 29 @ Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
*- if necessary
With files from NOJHL statistician and historian David Harrison