Photos: Marc-André Longval
HEARST, Ont. – A three-goal outburst in the back half of the second stanza broke open a tie game as the Hearst Lumberjacks went on to defeat the visiting Soo Eagles 8-4 in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League action Thursday night at Claude Larose Recreation Centre.
The host Lumberjacks had the best early chance to open the scoring, only to be stymied by a crisp pad save by Eagles’ starter Ryan Gilmore a couple of minutes into the proceedings.
Going to the power play later in the initial period, Hearst did convert after some nice puck movement that was finished off by Robbie Rutledge who banged in his NOJHL-leading 30th goal of the season, while parked at the top of the crease.
A second Hearst marker came at 11:19 that began off a long stretch pass up to Zachary Demers, who lifted the puck over to a diving Raphael Lajeunesse, who tapped in his 18th of the campaign, while showing a soft touch around the net.
Pressing with a man advantage of their own, Sault Ste. Marie got one back as Marc LaFrance jammed in his 11th on a sprawled Lumberjacks’ goalkeeper Liam Oxner, with multiple bodies battling in front.
It was more from LaFrance at 16:51 as he fired a chance from the corner that hit the skate of a defender and slid into the net.
A fifth goal in the frame saw Hearst take a 3-2 edge off a draw that saw blueliner Alex Hunt pinch in from the point and bury one from the left side.
Another fortuitous bounce also went the Soo’s way near the midway point of the contest as a shot from the blueline deflected off a Hearst rearguard right to an open Seth Ferguson who promptly blasted in his 15th as a member of the Eagles.
Continuing to generate opportunities, the home side, the NOJHL leaders in goals-scored tacked on three more to make it a 6-3 game after 40 minutes.
Ryan Glazer notched the fourth for his club at 12:48 as he darted down the left wing and whipped one over Gilmore’s glove.
They then saw Brayden Palfi strike right after that as the Lumberjacks broke out in numbers off a steal at their own blueline and he capitalized on a third try on net.
Then in the final minute of the second, Tyler Patterson stuffed in his own rebound when left unmarked in front.
Moving to the third, a seventh was provided by the hosts off a odd-man rush that was completed by Cody Walker, with help of a cross-crease pass by Palfi.
A third break went the Eagles way during a man advantage at 4:28 when Brian Fiddes put one off another Hearst player that skipped high over the shoulder of Oxner.
Wrapping it up, the NOJHL’s front-runners on the power play, Hearst used some crisp movement while up a skater with Dylan Ford setting up Demers to the right of the goal where he deposited his 10th, which came with under seven minutes to go.
With the outcome, Hearst improved to 29-7-2-0 with Oxner’s 18th victory tying him for the league-lead with Timmins’ Gavin McCarthy.
In defeat, the Soo slipped to 21-8-2-1.