BLIND RIVER, Ont. – A Steven Bellini power play marker with a minute left in the second period proved to be the decider as the Soo Thunderbirds went on to edge the Blind River Beavers 4-3 Tuesday evening in Game 6 of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal at the Blind River Community Centre.
With the outcome, the Thunderbirds take the closely-played best-of-seven affair 4-2 and will now advance to the West Division Final against the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, who took their match-up vs. the Soo Eagles in six games as well, following a 4-0 triumph Tuesday night.
After Ryan Lawrence opened the scoring for Sault Ste. Marie at 6:33, Blind River countered with the equalizer during a man advantage opportunity with Ethan Graham notching his initial NOJHL playoff tally.
Answering back, the NOJHL’s leading goal-getter during the regular season, in the Thunderbirds’ Lucas Theriault, put the visitors back on top at 16:47 with his fifth of the postseason and 45th overall on the campaign.
Countering once more, the Beavers drew level again when Riley Nadeau connected 42 seconds into the middle stanza to knot the affair at 2-2.
Back and forth they continued with the Soo regaining the lead at 6:07 as Kaidan McDonald finished off the work of teammates Nick Smith and Spencer Van Tiem.
Continuing to battle, Blind River tied it just over 10 minutes later compliments of Ryan Peck’s eighth of the postseason, which came at 16:34.
The Thunderbirds had answer for a fourth time though with Bellini taking his time while sliding over to the right side before snapping a shot that eluded Beavers’ starter Jackson Hjelle during a power play at the 19-minute mark of period.
Neither side would connect offensively in a scoreless third as the Soo held on to punch their ticket to the next round of the NOJHL playoffs.
Smith dished out a pair of assists to aid the winners cause.
Colin Ahern made 22 stops to record the win for the Thunderbirds while Hjelle faced 23 attempts in the season-ending setback for the Beavers.
West Division semifinal
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 4 Blind River Beavers
Thunderbirds win best-of-seven series 4-2
Game 1: Thunderbirds 4 Beavers 2
Game 2: Thunderbirds 6 Beavers 3
Game 3: Beavers 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 4: Beavers 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 5: Thunderbirds 3 Beavers 1
Game 6: Thunderbirds 4 Beavers 3
Game Photos courtesy of Crystal Serré