SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – The Rayside-Balfour Canadians collected a pair of third period tallies to break a tie game and help send them to a 3-1 victory over the Soo Thunderbirds in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League action Tuesday evening at John Rhodes Community Centre.
With the result, the Canadians clinch the NOJHL’s West Division title while the Thunderbirds will settle for second place.
Who the two teams will play in the divisional semifinals will be determined by the result on the final game of the regular season between the Soo and their cross-border rival, the Soo Eagles, Wednesday night back at John Rhodes.
In Tuesday’s contest, Sault Ste. Marie struck first offensively midway through the first frame as Alex Acosta snapped a shot from a sharp angle off a rebound following a save by Rayside-Balfour netminder Brayden Lachance that just trickled across the goal line at 10:11.
A costly giveaway by Thunderbirds’ goaltender Brandon Gordon allowed the Canadians to tie it at 15:23 as his ill-timed clearing attempt, with his club on the power play, gave Noah Serre a gift of a shorthanded goal to knot the affair at 1-1 after one period of play.
Boasting the NOJHL’s best penalty killing percentage helped the visitors keep in level through a scoreless second stanza as they kept the Soo of the scoreboard during a five-minute power play that featured over a minute of a two-man advantage for the Thunderbirds, who were unable to solve Lachance.
Moving on to the third, it would be the Canadians who would capitalize with the power play as Rayside-Balfour captain Matthew Neault redirected a Ryan O’Bonsawin snap shot from the point from close range by chipping the eventual game-winner past Gordon at 6:20.
The visitors added to their lead with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation as Baldino Aiello banked one in off a Soo defender from behind the net to put them up by pair in what would be the final goal of the night.
Lachance was solid throughout for the Canadians making 44 saves to pick-up the division-clinching victory.
Gordon faced 18 shots in defeat for the Thunderbirds.
Photos courtesy of James Egan’s Sports Photography