Photos: Bob Davies
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – Riding the strength of a three-goal game from Ryan Glazer, the Hearst Lumberjacks went on to surprise the Soo Thunderbirds 6-4 Sunday evening in the openingmatch-up of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League final at GFL Memorial Gardens.
The victory not only gives the Lumberjacks an early series lead, they also snapped a lengthy 26-game winning streak Sault Ste. Marie had coming into the contest.
The best early chance came five minutes into the proceedings, that saw Hearst netminder Liam Oxner come across his crease and thwart the Soo’s Kenny Belanger Jr., with a nice save.
Capitalizing on a turnover, the Thunderbirds did open the scoring at 7:48 of the first.
It came about when NOJHL MVP Cooper Foster set-up a surging Michael Chaffay who lifted one past Oxner, from the left side, as he collected his league-leading 10th tally of the playoffs and scored for a fourth straight postseason outing.
The Lumberjacks generated some opportunities of the own, later in the frame, including during a late power play, but could not solve Soo starter Noah Zeppa prior to the first intermission.
Despite being down two skaters early in the middle session, Hearst tied it after a Thunderbirds player lost his stick, which allowed Glazer to fly down the left wing and fire a shot off the post and in for a shorthanded marker at 2:28.
Still up a player though, the home side got it back when Kelsey Ouellet banked one in from behind the goal line that clipped off Oxner and bounced in with Cooper Foster also close by taking a whack at the puck.
Special teams saw the visitors draw level once more at 5:05 when they converted eight seconds into a man advantage and saw Riley Klugerman neatly redirect a Zachary Demers pass past Zeppa.
Up a skater after that, the Lumberjacks took the lead past the midway point of the contest when Dylan Ford snapped a shot from the top of the right circle that found its way in, to make it 3-2 Hearst with just under a half a game to go.
Building on that, the guests tacked on another while breaking out of their zone as a long feed up to Glazer sent him darting down the left side once more as he wired one off the pipe and in for his second of the period.
A fifth Lumberjacks goal came right after that with Maxandre Pelletier burying one from close range to chase Zeppa in favour of back-up Noah Metivier.
Countering, the Thunderbirds clicked on the power play at 17:03 when Dharan Cap found Colby Arbour coming in the back door and made a slick cross-ice feed that was steered into the open side.
Drawing closer, the Soo made it 5-4 midway through the third as Mason Chitaroni put a nice play off the end boards that bounced right into the slot where a waiting Russell Oldham scored.
They then just missed the equalizer moments later when Andrew Gibson rang one off the crossbar, but it stayed out.
Hearst would then hit the post off a turnover, but it came back to Metivier, who covered it up and got a whistle.
A late game-saving stop by Oxner kept his club in front and eventually allowed Glazer to ice it with an empty netter in the final minute to secure the road triumph.
Game 2 of the NOJHL’s Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy championship series goes Monday at 7 p.m. back at GFL Memorial Gardens.
The league winner will advance to represent the NOJHL at the Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, May 19-29, in Estevan, Sask.
NOJHL championship series schedule
Soo Thunderbirds vs. Hearst Lumberjacks
Lumberjacks lead best-of-seven series 1-0
Game 1: Lumberjacks 6 Thunderbirds 4
Game 2: Monday, May 2 @ Soo 7 p.m. (GFL Memorial Gardens)
Game 3: Thursday, May 5 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 4: Friday, May 6 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 5*: Sunday, May 8 @ Soo 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 6*: Tuesday, May 10 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 7*: Thursday, May 12 @ Soo 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
“Highlight of the Night” – NOJHL YouTube Channel