CHELMSFORD, Ont. – A Kyle Herbster shorthanded marker with 6:26 remaining in regulation broke a tie game as the Cochrane Crunch rallied with two third period tallies to edge the Rayside-Balfour Canadians 3-2 in Game 5 of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League championship series Sunday at Chelmsford Arena.
With the result, the Crunch now leads the best-of-seven set 3-2 and have the opportunity to capture their first NOJHL title in Game 6 Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Cochrane.
Should the Canadians take that contest, they would then host Game 7 on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Sunday saw a tight-checking opening frame as both teams were held at bay offensively as the session finished scoreless.
Rayside-Balfour would use a fortuitous bounce to help them break the deadlock 12 and a half minutes into the second stanza as a pass back to the point in the Canadians zone hopped over the stick of a Crunch defender, who later fell, which eventually allowed Noah Serre a chance from in close that he stuffed past Cochrane netminder Shayne Battler for his third goal of the playoffs.
The visitors would counter with the equalizer four minutes later though after forcing a turnover in the opponents zone, Gordon Whalen fired a shot from the left point with the rebound going right to an open Levi Johnson, who snapped the tying tally by Brayden Lachance in the Rayside-Balfour net.
However the home side countered before the frame was complete as James White finished off the work of Gabriel Rheault at 18:40.
Jacob Partridge added the second assist on the play to extend a point streak to seven straight outings while also giving him points in nine of his past 10 contests.
The back and forth affair saw the Crunch draw level once more early in the third as Austin Whelan knocked one in out of mid-air from the side of Lachance 26 seconds in.
Down a skater later in the frame, Herbster swiped the puck away from a Canadians defenceman and raced in on Lachance and lifted the difference maker high into the top of the net to help pull out the first road victory of the series.
Shots on goal favoured Cochrane 50-36 with Battler picking up the win while Lachance suffered the loss.
The NOJHL champion will advance to represent the league at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, May 1-5, in Dryden, Ont.
Rayside-Balfour Canadians vs. Cochrane Crunch
Cochrane leads best-of-seven series 3-2
Game 1: Rayside-Balfour 2 Cochrane 1 (OT)
Game 2: Rayside-Balfour 4 Cochrane 1
Game 3: Cochrane 8 Rayside-Balfour 2
Game 4: Cochrane 4 Rayside-Balfour 3 (OT)
Game 5: Cochrane 3 Rayside-Balfour 2
Game 6: Tuesday, April 24 @ Cochrane 7 p.m. (Tim Horton Event Centre)
Game7*: Thursday, April 26 @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
*- if necessary
Photo by Keith Dempsey, For The Sudbury Star