NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
NOJHL NETWORK MEDIA UPDATE
Release Date: Friday, March 24, 2017
Soaring Eagles complete surprise sweep of Thunderbirds
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – The Soo Eagles broke open a tie game with two third period tallies to defeat the rival Soo Thunderbirds 4-2 Friday to complete a surprising four-game sweep of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal in front of 1,236 fans at Pullar Stadium.
Despite finishing 31 points behind the Thunderbirds in the regular season standings, the Eagles are now off to the West Division final against either the Blind River Beavers or Rayside-Balfour Canadians.
That best-of-seven set is knotted at 2-2 heading into Game 5 Saturday in Blind River at 7:30 p.m.
In Friday’s contest, the Thunderbirds picked up the initial tally late in the opening session as Austin Kozluk backhanded a pass from behind the net that allowed Wyatt Villalta to walk in from the left point and blast a shot past Eagles’ starter Kade Phipps at 18:05.
The lead was short lived however as a neutral zone turnover allowed the home side to break into T-Birds territory where the puck was fed to Chris Lutz who broke in alone, deked to his right and slid the equalizer past the outstretched pad of Thunderbirds’ netminder Doug Newhouse a mere 73 seconds later.
Heading into the middle stanza, the visitors regained the lead four minutes into the middle stanza as Kozluk supplied his second assist of the evening as he saucered a nice pass from the left boards to a streaking Alec Allen in the high slot, who snapped the go ahead marker through Phipps.
Lutz tied it again at 6:29 as he found himself open in front of Newhouse and used a Thunderbirds defender as a screen as his shot went past the glove hand and in to knot the affair at 2-2.
A nice give-and-go helped the Eagles to go in front in the third as Jacob Palmerio took a return feed from Bradley Hofelich and whipped a low shot underneath Newhouse at 5:13 for the eventual game-winner.
Shorthanded, the Eagles added some insurance a minute and 23 seconds later as Chris Murphy was sent in alone on a breakaway and outwaited the Thunderbirds netminder before the puck slid between the legs and in for the final goal of the night.
Phipps finished with 17 stops in the victory to improve his playoff record to 6-1 while Newhouse faced 33 shots in defeat for the Thunderbirds whose reign as two-time defending NOJHL champions came to a close.
According to files from NOJHL statistician and historian David Harrison, this marks the first time the Thunderbirds have been swept in a best-of-seven series since 2004 when they fell in four straight to the then North Bay Skyhawks in the league final.
It’s also just the second time this has happened since they entered the NOJHL back in 1999-2000.
West Division semifinal (Series E)
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 4 Soo Eagles
Eagles win best-of-seven series 4-0
Game 1: Eagles 4 Thunderbirds 3 (2OT)
Game 2: Eagles 4 Thunderbirds 3
Game 3: Eagles 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 4: Eagles 4 Thunderbirds 2