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Playoff series preview: Soo Eagles vs. Rayside-Balfour Canadians

SUDBURY, Ont. – The second Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal featuring the Soo Eagles and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians is slated to begin this evening at Chelmsford Arena in a 7 p.m. start.

Rayside-Balfour finished in first place in the NOJHL West with a 40-11-3-2 overall record while the Eagles were fourth at 30-21-2-3.

The Eagles enter the series having won seven straight contests, including five to conclude the regular season and a first round two-game sweep of Espanola.

As for the Canadians, they too have been playing excellent hockey as well sporting a 17-2-1 record in their previous 20 outings.

SEASON SET: During the course of the regular season the two teams met eight times with Rayside-Balfour coming away victorious on six occasions.

However, the match-ups were very close with six of them decided by just one goal, including one in overtime and two via shootouts.

The Canadians also outscored the Eagles 28-21 overall.

SCORING: The first-year duo of Nicholas DeGrazia and Mitchell Martin led RBC in scoring during the season with 61 points apiece to finish tied for sixth in overall league numbers.

NOJHL Rookie of the Year DeGrazia also was tops in goals among rookies with 32.

Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis and Benjamin Hatanaka both provided 52 points with rookies Matthew Belanger and Oliver Smith supplying 49 and 47 each.

Sault Ste. Marie captain Dominic Skrelja led the Eagles with 54 points while mid-season pick-up Eric Vanderhoff was just behind him with 53.

From the blueline, Canadians captain Zachary Snow produced 37 points, including a penalty shot goal while Brice French and Hayden Clark having 33 points each.

Snow and Clark were both named NOJHL second team all-stars on defence.

Playoff numbers see Joel Brandinger and Clark pacing the Soo offensively with four points each while Skrelja and Chase Tallaire have three apiece.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: The tandem of veteran David Bowen and rookie Nicholas Heinzle had 18 and 17 wins respectively for Rayside-Balfour.

Bowen was fifth in the league in goals-against average at 2.65 while Heinzle was sixth at 2.81.

Save percentage-wise Bowen had a .924 mark to place him fourth in the NOJHL with Heinzle sitting ninth at .913.

Shane Brancato saw the bulk of the work in net for the Eagles.

He made a league-high 45 appearances during the year while going 21-18-1-2 overall.

Brancato led the NOJHL in minutes played at 2,536 and was eighth in goals-against average at 2.81 and tied for fifth with a save percentage at .919.

The Soo stopper also went 2-0 in their series sweep of Espanola with a 1.00 GAA and a .969 SV%.

WHAT’S NEXT: The team that takes this series will take on either the Blind River Beavers or Soo Thunderbirds in the West Division Final.

NUMBERS GAME: Shane Brancato finished tied for third in the NOJHL in wins with 21 and was second in saves at 1,379. … Nicholas DeGrazia and Mitchell Martin tied the league lead in rookie scoring with 61 points each with DeGrazia finishing top in tallies with 32 while Mitchel led the way in assists with 36. … RBC’s Matthew Belanger and Oliver Smith tied for second in rookie goals with 28 apiece. … Rayside-Balfour went 17-7-2-2 as the home club in 2019-20 while the Eagles were 17-9-1-1. … Scoring first in games saw the Canadians go 27-3-1-0 with the Soo posting a 20-6-1-0 mark in this category. … A 21% success rate saw the Canadians end up third overall in the NOJHL on the power play while the Eagles were eighth at 17.3%. … The penalty kill featured the Michigan Soo being second in the league at 88.2% while Rayside-Balfour finished fifth at 83.5%. … The Canadians led the NOJHL in shorthanded goals with 15. … As for the Eagles, they had seven man-down markers that tied them for fifth-most. … When leading after two periods of play, Rayside-Balfour went 32-2-1-0 and the Eagles were 19-2-1-0.

ONLINE VIEWING: All NOJHL playoff games can be watched online, via a pay-per-view basis, at HockeyTV.com.

West Division semifinal
No. 1 Rayside-Balfour Canadians vs. No. 4 Soo Eagles
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Thursday, March 12 @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 2: Friday, March 13 @ Rayside-Balfour 6:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 3: Monday, March 16 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 4: Tuesday, March 17 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 5*: Thursday, March 19 @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 6*: Saturday, March 21 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
Game 7*: Sunday, March 22 @ Rayside-Balfour 6:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
*-if necessary

With files from NOJHL Historian, David Harrison