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West Division semifinal series preview: Soo Thunderbirds vs. Soo Eagles

NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE

NOJHL NETWORK MEDIA UPDATE

Release Date: Saturday, March 19, 2016

West Division semifinal series preview: Soo Thunderbirds vs. Soo Eagles  

SUDBURY, Ont. – The fourth and final Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League divisional semifinal begins tonight at Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., as the top seeded and defending champion Soo Thunderbirds entertain the cross-border rival No. 4 Soo Eagles at 7:30 p.m. in Game 1 of their best-of-seven West Division match-up.

The T-Birds will also host Game 2 Monday at 7:30 p.m. as Essar Centre before the series shifts to Pullar Stadium for Game 3 Wednesday at 7 p.m. and Game 4 Friday at 7:30 p.m.

During the course of the regular season, the Thunderbirds secured the No. 1 overall seed in the NOJHL playoffs finishing with a league-best 47-6-1-0 regular season record and 95 points.

The T-Birds, who finished ranked third in the 131-team Canadian Junior Hockey League, were also an impressive 27-0 as the home team this season and 20-6-1-0 as the visitor.

The Eagles meanwhile were fourth in the West with a 22-30-0-2 mark (12-13-0-2 at home/10-17 away) and advanced to the semifinal after sweeping the Espanola Express 2-0 in a best-of-three play-in series.

Defensively, the Thunderbirds allowed the fewest goals-against in the league by a wide margin giving up only 93, which was 42 less than their closest rival in that category.

As for the Eagles they only gave-up 137 against, which was the sixth fewest in the NOJHL.

Offensively the T-Birds finished fifth in goals scored at 245 and the Eagles sat eighth at 182.

Looking at the head-to-head statistics compiled by NOJHL statistician and historian David Harrison, the two rivals met a dozen times during the course of the 2015-16 campaign with Thunderbirds taking 10 of those 12 meetings.

Each of those contests was fairly close however with half of them decided by two goals or less.

A total of 20 different skaters recorded at least one point for the Ontario Soo, who was led offensively by a trio of players in Caleb Boman, Brett Jeffries and Drake Pilon as they had 12 points apiece vs. the Michigan Soo.

Pilon had a team-high five tallies while Boman had four and Jeffires notched three.

Gord Helmuth paced the Eagles in points vs. the T-Birds with five, including three goals.

Chris Murphy, Roman Gaudet and Alex DiBacco were next with four points each.

Gaudet, Murphy and Reed Gregory led their side in the triumph over Espanola picking up eight points apiece to lead all NOJHL skaters.

In net, Brendon Gordon saw the bulk of the action for the Thunderbirds against the Eagles going 4-2 in six starts with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage and two shutouts.

All three of the Eagles goalkeepers in Cam Bruggrabe, Jack Deines and Jack Hickey saw action this season against the other Soo side.

Bruggrabe and Deines picked up a win each with the former posting the best average and save mark against them at 2.75 and .934. Bruggrabe also posted the two victories in the series vs. the Express, which included a shutout.

The winner of this series will meet the survivor of the other West semifinal between the No. 2 Elliot Lake Wildcats and No. 3 Rayside-Balfour Canadians.

Elliot Lake leads that best-of-seven 1-0 heading into Game 2 tonight at 7:30 p.m. as they go on the road for the first time to tangle with the Canadians at Chelmsford Arena.

Every NOJHL playoff contest is available online at FASTHockey.com.

West Division semifinal
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 4 Soo Eagles
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Saturday, March 19 @ Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 2: Monday, March 21 @ Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 3: Wednesday, March 23 @ Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 4: Friday, March 25 @ Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 5*: Sunday, March 27 @ Thunderbirds 2 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 6*: Monday, March 28 @ Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 7*: Wednesday, March 30 @ Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (T.B.A.)
*- if necessary