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NOJHL playoff preview: West Division semifinal – Rayside-Balfour Canadians vs. Soo Eagles

SUDBURY, Ont. – Game action in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal series between the Rayside-Balfour Canadians and the Soo Eagles starts Saturday at Chelmsford Arena as the two sides lock horns in Game 1 of their best-of-seven affair at 7 p.m.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Canadians and Eagles took on each other eight times during the 2018-19 campaign with Rayside-Balfour coming out victorious in five of the meetings.

Two of the contests were decided by just one goal, including one that went to a shootout, while a couple more ended in a difference of two tallies.

As the home side, the Canadians went 3-1 at Chelmsford Arena while the Eagles were 2-0-1 at Pullar Stadium in the games against each other.

Every get together saw a different skater credited with the game-winning goal.

RBC tallied 36 times against the Michigan Soo while the Eagles notched 28 markers.

SCORING: Pacing the Canadians in scoring against the Eagles was the veteran duo of Evan Krassey and Kyle Liinamaa as they picked up 11 points apiece in the meetings during the year.

Krassey had a team-high seven goals while Liinamaa had five.

Next was Alexander Fowke who had eight points with Zachary Snow and Giordano Biondi picking up seven each.

Liinamaa led Rayside-Balfour in scoring for a third consecutive season, while tying Krassey in 2017-18 in points. He has played at close to a point-per-game pace for the Canadians in his NOJHL career with 155 in 159 outings.

The Sault Ste. Marie trio of Kobe Keller, Dominic Skrelja and Charley Hanewall collected seven points apiece vs. the Canadians with Hanewall’s four goal leading the club in that category.

Then there was defenceman Mikey Butcher collecting six points as did forwards Nathan Soilis and George Orfanos.

Eagles blueliner Brendan Blair tied for the league lead in scoring among defenceman this season with 46 points.

His 17 goals also topped all D-men in the NOJHL while his 29 assists were fourth-most.

GOALTENDERS: David Bowen went 4-1 in net for the Canadians against the Eagles this season while Sebastien Plamondon went 0-2.

During the regular campaign, Plamondon paced all rookie goaltenders in the league in average at 2.49, which was the third-best in the entire NOJHL among all netminders. He was also third overall in save percentage at .928.

He and Bowen combined for 28 wins.

Shane Brancato earned all three victories for the Eagles in the season set against two defeats with Joseph Benedetto going 0-1.

His play through the year saw him finish ninth in goals-against average at 2.75 and seventh in save percentage at .918.

As for Benedetto, he led the Eagles in wins with 14 while Brancato was right behind him with 13.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Both clubs scored five power play goals against each other with the Canadians doing it in 30 opportunities and the Eagles in 38.

Rayside-Balfour did notch three shorthanded markers vs. the Soo this season.

WHAT’S NEXT: The winner of this series will meet either the Soo Thunderbirds or Blind River Beavers in the West Division Final in a best-of-seven affair.

ONLINE: All NOJHL playoff games are streamed online via HockeyTV.com.

West Division semifinal
No. 2 Rayside-Balfour Canadians vs. No. 3 Soo Eagles
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Saturday, March 16 @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 2: Sunday, March 17 @ Rayside-Balfour 6:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 3: Thursday, March 21 @ Soo Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 4: Friday, March 22 @ Soo Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 5*: Sunday, March 24 @ Rayside-Balfour 6:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 6*: Tuesday, March 26 @ Soo Eagles 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 7*: Wednesday, March 27 @ Rayside-Balfour 7:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
*-if necessary

With files from NOJHL Statistician/Historian David Harrison