SUDBURY, Ont. – Perennial rivals, the Soo Thunderbirds and Soo Eagles will renew acquaintances Saturday night as the two clubs square off at 7:30 p.m. to commence their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s West Division semifinal at John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
This cross-border get together is sure to entertain in what is sure to be a hotly-contested match-up throughout.
Here’s a glance at this Soo vs. Soo series.
HOW THEY ARRIVED: There was not much separating the two sides throughout the 2017-18 campaign as only five points divided them in the league standings.
The Thunderbirds were second in the NOJHL West going 36-16-3-1, which got them 76 points.
As for the Eagles they ended up third in the West as they produced a 35-20-0-1 mark.
The Eagles did score 27 more times but the Thunderbirds allowed 13 fewer tallies between the clubs.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: In 10 meetings throughout the season, the Thunderbirds took the season-set by a 6-3-1 count.
In all the Ontario Soo scored 25 times in those get togethers while their Michigan rivals notched the same amount of markers.
Nick Smith supplied two game-winning goals for the Thunderbirds and earned an assist on another.
POINT PRODUCERS: The top point producer for the Thunderbirds against the Eagles was Smith.
He picked up nine points on four goals and five assists.
Next on the squad was a trio of skaters in Alex Acosta, Camaryn Baber and Noah Solinger, who had five apiece.
Overall Smith also paced his team with his 69 points tying him for sixth among all NOJHL players.
As for the Eagles, Nick Techel topped his side in numbers vs. the Thunderbirds with nine points that featured four markers and five helpers.
The duo of Christian Bardarson and Austin Rowe were next with seven points each with Rowe producing a team-best five goals.
On the year, Techel was a narrow second in league offensive production with 85 points as he scored 29 times and doled out a league-best 56 assists.
The NOJHL’s leading goal scorer was Bardarson as his 41 markers topped the list there.
Kobe Keller was also over a point-per-game for the Eagles with 50 in 40 outings, including 20 tallies.
Rookie Steven Bellini’s 29 points topped all Thunderbirds’ defencemen while another first-year player in Bradon Caruso was next with 23.
Hayden Clark and Kellen Tharaldson were one-two respectively in scoring among Eagles’ blueliners with 33 and 31 to their credit.
THE GOALTENDERS: For the Thunderbirds, Brandon Gordon had seven appearances vs. the Eagles and posted a 3-3-1 record.
Meanwhile rookie goalkeeper Eric Schuch went 1-0-1 in two starts.
Carter McPhail saw the bulk of the action in net for the Eagles as he got the nod eight times against the Thunderbirds and produced a 4-4 record with a 2.12 average and a .927 save percentage along with one shutout.
Shane Brancato got the start in the other two outings and went 0-2.
On the overall season Gordon went 22-11-1-1 and had the second-best- average in the league at 2.31. His .926 save percentage tied him with teammate Schuch for third in the NOJHL.
Schuch was third by himself in goals-against average at 2.41.
McPhail had a solid first season in the league as he topped all netminders in average and shutouts at 2.27 and four. He was also second in save percentage at .930 and wins with 22.
Brancato had a 13-5 record in 21 appearances with a 2.80 GAA, a .909 SV% and one shutout.
SPECIAL TEAMS: While on the power play in the season set, the Thunderbirds were five for 37 on the man advantage and the Eagles went six for 46.
WHAT’S NEXT: Whichever club comes out on top in their series, they will move on to meet the winner of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians – Blind River Beavers match-up in the NOJHL’s West Division Final.
West Division semifinal
No. 2 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 3 Soo Eagles
Game 1: Saturday, March 17 @ Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 2: Monday, March 19 @ Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 3: Wednesday, March 21 @ Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 4: Friday, March 23 @ Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 5*: Saturday, March 24 @ Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 6*: Monday, March 26 @ Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game7*: Wednesday, March 28 @ Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
*- if necessary
All NOJHL playoff games are streamed online at HockeyTV.com.
With files from NOJHL Statistician & Historian David Harrison
Photo courtesy of James Egan’s Sports Photography