Eagles take playoff opener over Express

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – The Soo Eagles skated out to a three-goal lead before the game was half over and never trailed as they went on to defeat the Espanola Express 7-1 Wednesday evening in Game 1 of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division quarter-final series at Pullar Stadium.

This best-of-three affair now shifts to the Regional Recreation Complex in Espanola Friday for Game 2 at 7:30 p.m.

First period play Wednesday saw Sault Ste. Marie open the scoring late in the frame as Eagles’ captain Dominic Skrelja beat Espanola netminder Joel Rainville at 18:20.

The Soo then added to their lead in the middle stanza, beginning with a Joel Brandinger power play marker at 8:30.

Just 16 seconds later the Eagles potted another thanks to a Chase Tallaire even strength effort to go up by three.

Shorthanded, Espanola cut into the deficit just past the 12-minute mark of the second stanza on a man-down tally off the stick Lukas Lyszyk, who picked up assists from Josh Boucher and Mattias Salem.

However, another power play for the Soo late in the session saw them go up 4-1 after 40 minutes when Eric Vanderhoff collected his first of the postseason at 19:44.

Not wanting to take it easy in the third, it was more Eagles as Hayden Clark clicked on the power play at 3:51 before teammate Richard Boulware picked up his first of the season, a shift later, to put the game out of reach.

They then saw Brice French finish off the onslaught at 7:45 to help the Soo win for a sixth straight outing, which includes five in a row to wrap-up the regular season.

A balanced offensive attack saw 13 different Eagles skaters pick up at least one point in the triumph, led by Skrelja, Brandinger and Vanderhoff who had three apiece.

Soo starter Shane Brancato made 31 stops to earn the victory.

Rainville of the Express suffered the setback, facing 44 attempts in defeat.

West Division quarter-final series
No. 4 Soo Eagles vs. No. 5 Espanola Express
Eagles lead best-of-three series 1-0
Game 1: Eagles 7 Express 1
Game 2: Friday, March 6 @ Espanola 7:30 p.m. (Regional Rec. Complex)
Game 3*: Saturday, March 7 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
*- if necessary