Photos: Justin Cairns
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – The surging Soo Thunderbirds are off to the Northern Ontario Junior League championship series after they completed a four-game sweep of the rival Soo Eagles Saturday night, following a 5-2 victory at Pullar Stadium.
With the triumph, the Thunderbirds won their eighth straight playoff game and registered a 26th consecutive win to take the best-of-seven set 4-0 and will now meet either the Timmins Rock or Hearst Lumberjacks in the NOJHL final.
With their season on the line, the Eagles came out with a purpose and notched the night’s opening tally, 1:46 in, as Marc LaFrance snagged a loose puck off a draw and snapped a shot past Thunderbirds’ netminder Noah Metivier from between the hash marks.
Each team traded attempts that hit the goal post later in the session to keep the score 1-0 for the home side through the first 15 minutes, but the visitors did answer with a tying goal, while down a skater, as Youssef Chaouachi made a rush into the Eagles’ zone before driving to the middle and firing one short side that beat goaltender Gabe Rosek at 16:28.
Building on that, the guests tacked on another before the first intermission as Michael Chaffay powered his way out from behind the goal line and had a couple of cracks at it before notching his fourth, in as many periods, for his team.
Drawing even half way through the match-up, the Eagles tied it off a face-off in their own zone that saw Jack Mortson make a pass that allowed Brian Fiddes to split the Thunderbirds’ defence and go in alone on a breakaway where he neatly picked the bottom left-hand corner to even it at 2-2.
However, the visitors came right back to regain the lead at 13:04, via the power play, when Brock Santa Maria made a perfect cross-ice feed to a waiting Chaffay, who quickly finished off his second of the night into the open side, while parked to the left side.
Adding another, the Thunderbirds went up by a pair a few shifts later when Cole Delarosbil was first to a bouncing puck and promptly stuffed it in after he won a draw back to Zane Burleigh, who fired a high shot off the glass, that found its way back in front.
Holding their two-tally lead until late in regulation, the winners capped off the decision while shorthanded as Cooper Foster’s diligence on the penalty kill helped him swipe the puck off an Eagles’ player, which allowed him to dart out from end boards and finish off the series with an empty netter at 19:43.
NOJHL West Division Final
Soo Thunderbirds @ Soo Eagles
Thunderbirds win best-of-seven series 4-0
Game 1: Thunderbirds 3 Eagles 1
Game 2: Thunderbirds 4 Eagles 3 (OT)
Game 3: Thunderbirds 4 Eagles 1
Game 4: Thunderbirds 5 Eagles 2