Photos: Marc Johnson
HEARST, Ont. – A Maxandre Pelletier marker 16:23 into overtime was the difference as the Hearst Lumberjacks pulled out a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Soo Thunderbirds Thursday night in the third game of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League championship series in a jam-packed Claude Larose Recreation Centre.
The result gives the Lumberjacks a three-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven match-up and they will have a chance to claim the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy NOJHL championship Friday night at 7 p.m. back in Hearst with another triumph.
Should the Thunderbirds force a Game 5, it would be held Sunday at John Rhodes Recreation Centre in Sault Ste. Marie at 7 p.m.
Picking up the night’s first power play, Hearst capitalized just as it was coming to a close, just over six minutes into the contest, as Mathieu Comeau jammed in a loose puck from just outside the crease past a sprawled Noah Metiver, in the Soo net.
It was more from the Lumberjacks at 11:05 as a Thunderbirds’ D-to-D pass clipped off a skate, which allowed the hosts to make a drop back to Mason Bazaluk, who got a shot off that was stopped, but the rebound came right to Comeau, who slammed it into the open side, from the left of Metivier.
Hearst kept going and made it 3-0, just 42 seconds later, as Tyler Patterson found himself free in front where he put one under the pad of the Soo goalkeeper.
On the man advantage to begin the second stanza, the Thunderbirds used that to help them get on the board, when Brock Santa Maria put a cross-ice pass on the tape of Michael Chaffay, who whipped it in the bottom left corner on Hearst goaltender Liam Oxner.
Picking off a clearing attempt, the visitors used that to tack on another when Cooper Foster dropped one back for Chaffay who buried a shot from between the hash marks, with half a game to play, for his NOJHL-leading 12 goal of the playoffs.
Regrouping, Comeau capped off his hat trick for the home side as he promptly finished off a nice set-up from Ryan Glazer with a one-timer from the slot to make it 4-2 after 40 minutes.
In the third, the Thunderbirds got back to within one with 9:10 to play off a scramble in front that saw Kelsey Ouellet take a swipe at the puck up high, that appeared to be missed, before he took another swing and batted it in with his stick at a legal level.
The Soo came close to tying it with three minutes left, but were stoned by a diving stick save by Oxner as he came across to prevent the tying tally off a wraparound by Santa Maria.
However, the Thunderbirds did force OT with 1:35 left in regulation as Foster was the player off the bench for the extra attacker, with Metivier out, and just kept the play onside at the blueline before darting across it and saw his wrist shot supply the equalizer, past a screened Lumberjacks goalkeeper.
Some quality chances at both ends, including a missed breakaway by Glazer, with five minutes left kept the game going.
However, Pelletier notched the game-winner, just over a minute later as he went to the net following a Jaden Raad shot from the point and was there to fire in the deciding marker past Metivier’s pad and give Hearst a commanding lead in the series.
The league champion 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 3-0
Game 1: Lumberjacks 6 Thunderbirds 4
Game 2: Lumberjacks 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 3: Lumberjacks 5 Thunderbirds 4 (OT)
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