Photos: Justin Cairns
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – The Soo Eagles withstood giving up four power play goals to the Espanola Express, but still prevailed with a narrow 6-5 victory Monday evening in a Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League contest at Pullar Stadium.
The Express did get off to a great start as Todd McBain connected just 44 seconds into the match-up as he found himself wide-open in front of Eagles’ starter Caleb Horn, who was making his NOJHL debut, and snapped a shot over the blocker to put the guests in front early.
However, Sault Ste. Marie stormed back to tie it on the next shift thanks to Jack Mortson tapping in a rebound into the open net off a Chase Tallaire shot from the right side that Espanola netminder Matthew Loney could only get a piece of.
The Eagles then tacked on two tallies moments apart, later in the session, to take a 3-1 lead into the intermission.
Michael Szlag put the home side up at 8:05 as he skated down the left wing and lifted a knuckling puck that went over Loney’s shoulder.
Then right off the draw Mortson picked off a pass by an Express player behind the net and quickly fed Tallaire moving down the slot where he snapped in his team-leading 26th goal.
Heading to the middle stanza, the visitors pulled back to within one while on the power play as they converted at 8:57 following some nice puck movement that saw Benjamin Lacroix fire a shot from close range that was credited to Yan Bessette getting a piece of it on a deflection.
Once again though, the Eagles came right back with a marker of their own when Marc Lafrance did some crafty stickwork while darting around a Espanola defenceman before tucking one through Loney on the left side, which spelled the end of his night in favour of back-up Vaughn LeDrew.
The back and forth affair saw the Express convert once more with the man advantage, while up two skaters, and saw Garreth Sturgess move in from the point and fire a low shot right through the legs of Horn at 13:32.
Restoring their two-goal cushion before the end of the second stanza, Zachary Briskey did most of the work and got the puck over to LaFrance, who simply nudged it over the line.
Converting on the power play for a third time on the night, Espanola’s Eric Barnard kept a hot streak in tact with an eighth point in three games as he made no mistake with a wrister from the right circle.
Action in the third saw the goal-count continue when the Soo’s Sam Holy cranked one from the point that hit the cross bar and went in as his blast flew past LeDrew at 1:17.
A fourth man advantage marker by the Express saw them convert with three extra skaters, as they also had their netminder out, to go along with two Soo players in the penalty box as Bessette got his second of the night at 18:02.
However, there would not be a 12th tally on the night as the Eagles held firm from there for their 32nd win of the campaign, with still two games left on their regular season docket.
In defeat, Espanola finishes their year going 13-31-4-0 overall.
“Highlight of the Night” – NOJHL YouTube Channel