Photo: Matt Stefano
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – In what was a highly anticipated match-up between two of the hottest teams in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League coming in, it was the Soo Thunderbirds who put in a solid performance as they soared past the Soo Eagles 8-1 Wednesday at John Rhodes Community Centre.
With 15 victories between them, with a couple of other extra time points added in there, during their past 20 outings combined, it was the Thunderbirds that opened the night’s scoring off a goal-mouth scramble at 13:17.
On the play, a couple of players got tangled up in front, which resulted in Eagles’ goaltender Gabe Rosek being taken with them behind the goal line, which allowed for an eventual tap-in into the vacant net for Kenny Belanger Jr.
A late first period man advantage helped the home side go up by a pair when Brock Santa Maria made a perfect cross-crease feed that found the tape of Michael Chaffay, who chipped in his 15th.
Building on that, the T-Birds broke it open in the middle stanza with a four-marker outburst by the midway point of the proceedings to gain control.
Dharan Cap began the surge at 6:20 as he took a Colby Arbour pass and whipped in his fourth with a shot from the slot.
Going to the power play moments later, Cooper Foster made it 4-0 completing a crisp passing play with teammates Santa Maria and Andrew Gibson.
The Thunderbirds kept coming and tacked on two more in short order, compliments of Kyle Trottier and Chaffay, to end Rosek’s night in favour of back-up Ryan Gilmore.
Trottier’s tally came when Arbour drove to the net and made a pass to leave him with most of the net to aim at to deposit his second while Chaffay added another less than a minute later as he roofed one from the right circle.
After the goaltending change, the Eagles did get on the board with Seth Ferguson striking for the visitors at 11:08.
That play saw him sent in alone on a breakaway, where he made a couple of quick dekes prior to cutting left and tucking a backhand past the outstretched pad of T-Birds’ starter Noah Zeppa for his 12th goal of the season.
A third extra-man effort on the evening, coming early in the third, put the game away for the hosts as Belanger Jr. bagged his second of the affair by lifting one in while parked to the left of Gilmore.
Gibson then finished off the one-sided result, in the late going, by ripping one in from the left inner-hashmark.
Zeppa picked up the win, that included thwarting Ferguson on a third period penalty shot.
The victory was his third straight and in his last four appearances he’s only allowed four goals-against.
Rosek meanwhile saw a six-game winning streak come to an end as he suffered his first defeat since back on November 13.
With the outcome, the NOJHL West Division-leading Thunderbirds improved to a solid 23-5-2-3 on the year while the second-place Eagles slipped to 20-7-1-1.