Photos: Bob Davies
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – The Soo Thunderbirds struck early and never trailed, but had to hold on at the end to defeat the Hearst Lumberjacks 3-2 Sunday evening in Game 5 of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s championship series at John Rhodes Community Centre.
With the victory, the Thunderbirds now trail the best-of-seven affair 3-2 and have forced a sixth contest in this series, which goes Tuesday night at Claude Larose Recreation Centre and features a 7 p.m. start.
Picking up an early power play, it was a dream start for Sault Ste. Marie when Michael Chaffay put a perfect cross-ice pass on the tape of a hard-skating Brock Santa Maria, who steered in his third of the playoffs, in beating Hearst netminder Liam Oxner.
Action in the opening stages of the second stanza featured a couple of quality saves by each goalkeeper as Oxner and the Soo’s Noah Metivier both came up with big saves before the session was three minutes old.
A couple more larcenous stops by the Heart goaltender later in the second helped keep the visitors to within one with half a game to go.
Up a skater again, the Thunderbirds used some crisp passing to go up by a pair as Youssef Chaouachi finished off a Colby Arbour feed from in close at 13:09.
It was more from the home side before the second intermission when Chaffay sent another sharp feed, this time to defenceman Andrew Gibson, who skated into the right circle and fired a shot that beat Oxner to make it 3-0 after two.
Making a change between the pipes to start the third period, the Lumberjacks saw back-up Matteo Gennaro enter to commence the final frame.
Getting one back, Hearst ended Metivier’s shutout bid with 6:16 to go as he swiped the puck off a Soo defender and quickly fired in his seventh of the postseason to bring the guests back to within a pair, with help from Ryan Glazer.
Continuing to battle, Demers connected again as his close-range backhand made it 3-2 with 80 seconds top play.
Getting Gennaro out for an extra attacker, the Lumberjacks looked to tie it and force overtime, but the Soo held firm from their to win their second-straight and send it back to Hearst for another game, on Tuesday.
The NOJHL champion will advance to represent the league 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 3-2
Game 1: Lumberjacks 6 Thunderbirds 4
Game 2: Lumberjacks 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 3: Lumberjacks 5 Thunderbirds 4 (OT)
Game 4: Thunderbirds 4 Lumberjacks 2
Game 5: Thunderbirds 3 Lumberjacks 2
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