CHELMSFORD, Ont. – The Rayside-Balfour Canadians struck three times before the game was 10 minutes old and used that early advantage to help propel them to a 4-1 victory over the Soo Thunderbirds Sunday afternoon in Game 5 of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division Final at Chelmsford Arena.
With the win, the Canadians now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Game 6 Monday night at John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., at 7:30 p.m.
Prior to the game, a moving pre-game ceremony was held to honour and recognize the Humboldt Broncos organization, the Town of Humboldt, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, first responders and all those affected by Friday’s horrific tragedy as the Canadians, the Thunderbirds and the on-ice officials all lined up side-by-side across the centre ice red line to pay homage to their comrades.
Rayside-Balfour would open the scoring five and a half minutes into the contest as Kyle Liinamaa fed a slick cross-ice pass over to Taylor Woolcott who waited for Thunderbirds’ goaltender Eric Schuch to commit before wristing a shot into the open side.
The home team then added another 60 seconds later as James White banked an attempt from behind the net that bounced off the skate of Schuch and trickled across the goal line.
It was more Canadians midway through the frame with another fortuitous break as Canadians’ defenceman Ryan O’Bonsawin fired a shot from the left point that deflected off a Sault Ste. Marie, changed direction, and skipped past Schuch.
The Thunderbirds did get one back before the first period was complete thanks to Spencer Van Tiem who collected his third of the playoffs after getting a piece of a Braden Caruso attempt from the left blueline and that beat Brayden Lachance in the Rayside-Balfour goal.
From there the two sides tightened up defensively through a scoreless middle stanza and deep into the final frame.
After successfully handling a Soo power play, the Canadians added some insurance with just under five minutes to go, Liinimaa added his second assist of the day as he saucered a feed over Evan Krassey, who neatly made a couple of quick dekes and backhanded his first of the postseason into the open side.
With his two-point day, Liinamaa now has points in four straight outings to raise his NOJHL-leading playoff point total to 14.
Lachance finished with 34 saves to record the win for Rayside-Balfour faced 36 attempts in defeat for the Thunderbirds.
The winner of this series will take on the Cochrane Crunch in the NOJHL finals with the league champion advancing to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup May 1-5 in Dryden, Ont.
West Division Final
No. 1 Rayside-Balfour Canadians vs. No. 2 Soo Thunderbirds
Rayside-Balfour leads best-of-seven series 3-2
Game 1: Soo 2 Rayside-Balfour 0
Game 2: Rayside-Balfour 3 Soo 2 (OT)
Game 3: Rayside-Balfour 4 Soo 3
Game 4: Soo 8 Rayside-Balfour 2
Game 5: Rayside-Balfour 4 Soo 1
Game 6: Monday, April 9 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game7*: Wednesday, April 11 @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
*- if necessary